CHICAGO — Opportunities long closed to Illinois residents with criminal records are beginning to open as employers seek new sources of talent and lawmakers bet that gainful employment will reduce recidivism.
Illinois lawmakers have changed licensing laws to make at least 100 occupations more accessible to people with a criminal background. The state has also expanded the types of convictions that can be sealed and therefore hidden from most employers, the Chicago Tribune reported .
“We are evolving into a society that accepts that people make mistakes and should be given a second chance,” said Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resources Management, which is encouraging employers to consider hiring people with records.
More than 27,000 people left Illinois prisons last year, and more than 50,000 people were released from Cook County jail. Many people who get released return to neighborhoods that have high rates of violence and little economic opportunity.
Illinois residents with criminal records or arrest histories account for 42 percent of the state’s population, according to the National Employment Law Project. Giving convicted felons consideration for a job is increasingly being embraced as necessary, advocates say.
“Society as a whole has started to shift its mindset,” said Sakira Cook, senior counsel at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Housing, education, job opportunities are all basic needs, and if the needs are met then the likelihood of someone engaging in criminal behavior is reduced.”
A main concern employers have expressed is liability because they could face a negligent hiring lawsuit if they hire an ex-offender who later harms someone. But the sense of purpose a career gives is what can make people with criminal records such quality employees, advocates said.
“They’re very dedicated,” said Reggie Allen, a talent acquisition consultant for Presence Health. “They’re hungry for a chance because they know they may not get many chances.”