Act Now to Support the F.A.T.E. Bill

The mark of a criminal record is so stigmatizing that the majority of employers will not consider hiring an individual with a record. Last year, in partnership with the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI), we helped to lead change in this area by passing state legislation to significantly increase the number of felony records that can be sealed. Criminal record sealing offers much needed relief to individuals by removing their record from public view, giving people a fair opportunity to be considered for good jobs, find housing and pursue education.

Since this legislation has been enacted, petitions to seal criminal records that would have otherwise been granted, are being DENIED because of outstanding fines, fees, and costs that individuals frequently cannot pay. Often individuals cannot pay their financial obligations because their criminal record prevents them from finding employment. 

Low- and moderate-income Illinois residents accused of crimes are increasingly levied with hundreds or even thousands of dollars of assessments, which help to finance the criminal court system, but perpetuate a cycle of debt and poverty simply because people cannot afford to pay these “user fees” for the criminal justice system. Criminal debt disproportionately impacts communities of color and leads to an increased risk for recidivism due to unpaid debts, resulting in employment and housing instability.

Our solution is HB 5341, the F.A.T.E. (Fair Access to Employment) Bill, which clarifies that outstanding legal financial obligations likes fines, fees, and costs, cannot be considered when determining whether someone can seal their record. 

Take action now: Tell your representative to support HB 5341, the F.A.T.E. (Fair Access to Employment) bill.

HB 5341 does not excuse anyone from paying their debts. Instead, this bill offers a common sense solution to help individuals seal their record and, therefore, obtain a good job in order to pay their outstanding financial obligations. Any entity that is owed fines and fees may still pursue repayment, debt collections, and the like.

People experiencing poverty should not be punished more severely than a wealthier person for the same infraction as a direct consequence of their poverty. The Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School calls this a “poverty penalty.” Scripture admonishes this practice as well. Proverbs 22:22 states: “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court” (NIV).

HB 5341 is an important step that we can take to increase opportunities for people with criminal records, reduce recidivism, and strengthen our community. Sponsored by Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth and Senator Don Harmon, HB 5341 is now pending in the Illinoise House and will be called for a vote soon.

Take action now: Tell your representative to support HB 5341, the F.A.T.E. (Fair Access to Employment) bill.

Community Renewal Society is part of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI) spearheaded by Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights. RROCI is committed to solutions driven with a community voice and believes that Illinois needs a fair system of justice that recognizes human dignity and that everyone deserves a meaningful future.


 
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