Illinois Justice Project

Question Five

Employment

The National Employment Law Project has estimated that nearly 42 percent of Illinoisans have criminal records or arrest histories. In 2017 alone, more than 27,000 people left Illinois prisons and more than 50,000 people were released from Cook County Jail. Many of them returning to neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West Sides, which have high rates of poverty and little economic opportunity.  Giving people with criminal records a fair shot at employment is increasingly being embraced as necessary to reduce crime.

 In 2015, Mayor Emanuel signed into law the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, the city’s version of “ban the box.” The effectiveness of that law, however, has been called into question by advocates as it allows employers in Chicago to run background checks immediately after they select a person for an interview, but before the interview happens. This prescribed sequence has arguably failed to adequately protect individuals from being denied a job based on their criminal history.  Advocates point to California as a model which bars a background check from happening until after an applicant is offered the position, as the most effective version of the law.

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Are there current city-wide employment reentry programs that you would support? Are there new programs that you would support or adopt through the City Council or Illinois General Assembly? Do you believe the ban the box law, called the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, needs modification?

It is imperative that we reduce recidivism by helping people and communities. This means abandoning failed incarceration and rehabilitation policies and practices, and turning instead to evidence based programs with track records of success and policies that remove barriers to opportunity for people with arrest and conviction records. For instance, we know that among all re-entry programs, employment training/job assistance returns $20.26 on every dollar invested. We also know that recidivism rates decrease significantly when returning citizens have access to employment and safe, stable, and affordable housing.

Working with the state, community-based providers like Safer Foundation and CARA, local and national businesses, affordable housing providers and philanthropic organizations, we can dramatically reduce recidivism by:

-Creating the Office of Returning Citizens Affairs and streamline reentry services -Supporting community-based social service programs

-Advancing policies and legislation that remove barriers to obtaining housing

-Restructuring city spending to address social determinants of health

-Providing returning citizens access to affordable educational opportunities

The city of Chicago has taken strong steps to toward offering employment opportunities across its agencies to those with criminal records. Advocates have applauded those efforts and argue that is time for the city government to go further and make the city the gold standard model for instituting fair chance hiring practices. It is argued that leadership by the city could positively influence private hiring practices. Do you agree that the city should go further?

I agree that the city should expand efforts like those already underway at CTA to hire individuals with criminal and arrest records. The power of a second chance is something that I deeply understand. As the sister of someone who spent much of his adult life in prison, I know how important it is that we reduce recidivism by helping people and neighborhoods. This means abandoning failed incarceration and rehabilitation policies and practices, and turning instead to evidence based programs with track records of success, and policies that remove barriers to opportunity for people with arrest and conviction records.

Annually, more than 11,000 people return to Chicago upon their release from prison. Among all re-entry programs, employment training/job assistance returns $20.26 on every dollar invested. We also know that recidivism rates decrease significantly when returning citizens have access to employment and safe, stable, and affordable housing.


Are there current city-wide employment reentry programs that you would support? Are there new programs that you would support or adopt through the City Council or Illinois General Assembly? Do you believe the ban the box law, called the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, needs modification?

Employment reentry programs are an important component for creating economic opportunity for residents across the City, no matter what their racial background or where they live. As President of the Cook County Board, I demonstrated that importance by directing increased funding for our county-wide Recidivism Reduction Grant Program.  Grant awards under this program were awarded competitively through an RFP process and each year the strength of proposals grows.  One key area of concentration for recidivism reduction is employment.  We have funded soft skills training, sector specific training, job placement, and wrap around services.  Many of the programs we funded in specific community areas merit expansion due to the overwhelming need. 

Barriers to employment for many of these program participants directly relate to their previous criminal histories. Given the concerns expressed by advocates, I would task my administration with reviewing the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act and make modifications as necessary. In particular, moving background checks to after the interview would clearly help many qualified candidates move beyond their past mistakes.

The city of Chicago has taken strong steps to toward offering employment opportunities across its agencies to those with criminal records. Advocates have applauded those efforts and argue that is time for the city government to go further and make the city the gold standard model for instituting fair chance hiring practices. It is argued that leadership by the city could positively influence private hiring practices. Do you agree that the city should go further?

The City should take the lead in instituting fair chance hiring practices beyond what is already in place. As the Chief Executive of the City, I do believe that the Mayor has an abundance of political capital and ability to build consensus across all stakeholders, including the private sector. I have led by example in many arenas and would do so on this issue.  

Preckwinkle

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