Second Chance Legislation


A group of Illinois legislators believe that people who have had a brush with the law should be allowed a second chance.

Ill. Rep. Constance A. Howard (D-Chicago) was victorious on April 5 when House Bill 300 passed with very little opposition. Howard’s proposed legislation would allow the automatic elimination or expungement – of certain charges from one’s criminal background history. Expungement would erase some negative information that is held against an individual. If passed, the bill would amend the current Criminal Identification Act.

According to Howard and U.S. Rep. Davis K. Davis (D-7), the bill would allow people with negative background information a “second chance” to get a job and get their lives back on track.

Davis testified to members of the Illinois House Rules Committee in February when Howard’s bill first came up. As of November 2000, 45,617 adults were incarcerated and 29,120 were on parole in Illinois, Davis said. Citing a study prepared by Claritas and commissioned by the Stein Family Foundation, Davis said 70 percent of the men 18-45 in one West Side neighborhood are ex-offenders.

“This is my congressional district,” Davis said.

A lack of employment is the number one reason offenders commit new crimes, Davis said. Howard’s bill calls for an immediate expungement of the arrest and conviction records if the accused is found innocent. Cases for people accused but not convicted would also qualify.

“As these men and women transition from incarceration to freedom, what they need most are jobs. After all, having access to jobs is a basic American concept,” Davis said. “What they find instead are cold stares, unreturned phone calls and closed doors. The jobs are few and far between and in most cases non-existent for the serious and earnest men and women working to clean up their act and transition into productive citizens.”

Under the current laws, it is the responsibility of the individual to obtain consul or take whatever steps necessary to clear their own record. These criminal records have caused people to be discharged from a job, considered not a good candidate for a position they applied for, and ineligible for a lot of services and programs, including public housing and scholarships or educational grants.

Supporters of Howard’s bill came to Springfield April 5 in several buses to hear the decision by the Illinois House of Representatives. One of the people on the bus was Algie Crivens III.

Crivens served eight years of a life sentence for murder one in the Stateville Correctional facility but was later found innocent. Crivens said that although he was set free, he still had a prison record, is still considered an ex-con and an ex-murderer. Although he has a bachelors degree, he still has trouble getting a job, an entry-level job. The Illinois House passed the bill by a vote of 115 yes votes and 2 no votes. The bill now has to come out of the Rules Committee and be passed in the Senate to go on to Governor George Ryans desk.

“I am encouraging everyone to call their representatives, and ask them to support the House Bill,” said Howard.

Many of the charges eligible for expungement are cases that were dropped, discharged or dismissed. According to Howard, those charges should not continue to cause problems.

Howard said many people come to her office seeking help with employment. She spoke with various employers and set up a mini job fair at her office.

“I thought I was doing something,” said Howard.

When she followed up, she learned that many people were not hired because of negative background issues. Howard said that she started talking to more and more men and women who were having the same problems. She consulted with law enforcement officials and legal experts assessing what criminal charges could currently be expunged and the process. Howard put together a group of concerned citizens that included attorneys, policemen, probation officers, social workers, community representatives, reporters – including this reporter – and other media personnel. Howard herself has a masters of science in corrections and criminal justice from Chicago State University.

They started meeting to strategize and see what steps to take. The meetings became almost weekly as time went on. They met at Northeastern University’s Center for Inner City Studies on Oakwood Boulevard. Howard began to consult other politicians and inform them of what she was working on. She sought their help because the people that came to her live all over the city.

If Howard’s bill becomes law, offenses can be expunged if the person is found to be actually innocent. But she has proposed six other bills that would expunge records for some misdemeanor convictions, some minor felonies, for those charged but not convicted, minors sentenced as adults and sentenced to probation or conditional discharge and minors sentenced to probation.

“Of course everyone won’t qualify for expungement,” said Howard.

U.S. Rep. Davis and members of the Illinois Black Caucus worked with Howard and supported her efforts.

State Rep. William Delgado (D-Chicago) was also involved. More than 100 Hispanics attended a large meeting at Kennedy King College in late March.

Hispanics make up the other large group of individuals in our prison system. The meeting was days before the expungement hearing and many came and testified about their background situations. People signed up to go to Springfield to be there when the bill was voted on. Buses left from several locations on the North, West and South sides.

There are several agencies that assist ex-offenders with the expungement process under the current laws. U.S. Rep. Davis has an ex-offenders task force meeting at his office every month. Expungement is one of the things discussed. They are working on strategies for reintegrating ex-offenders into society. The committee has been meeting for the past two years.

The expungement is necessary for a lot of people because negative information can block a person from scholarships and grants for school, jobs and subsidized housing as well as market-rate units. Many people have been released from jobs because their employer found out they had been arrested or had some negative background information. In many cases, the employee did not know that the information existed.

Consider the case of an African American woman who attended the meeting at Kennedy-King College; she was arrested for disorderly conduct over 30 years ago. She said that she was a soldier in the civil rights battles of the late ‘60s and she marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Sometimes a person has charges against them that are dismissed or dropped by the court. One young lady who testified at the Kennedy-King rally had a negative background that showed jail time and other charges because someone used her name. She found out about all the charges when she was discharged from her job.

Although she has hired an attorney and proved that it was not her who committed the crimes, she still is labeled an ex-offender.

Forms for expungement are available at the county clerk’s office and they can even be downloaded from their website. The process takes a long time but can be done without a lawyer.

Howard said, “They would not let me go after certain convictions but next year I will.”

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