2011 Criminal Justice Reforms

Currently, there are nearly 50,000 men and women incarcerated in Illinois prisons. Forty thousand of them are likely to be released in the next calendar year, but they will be replaced by about the same number as the revolving door of Illinois’ prison system continues to turn. These returning citizens are faced with worst than dismal prospects. The barriers they will face in housing, education, and employment are literally insurmountable without compassionate policies that allow them to re-enter the mainstream to become productive and gainfully employed.

While 2011 was no banner year for criminal justice reforms, the first half of the 97th General Assembly did bring some modest criminal justice reforms that reflect kindness, wisdom and justice.

The passage of HB 297, Employment Restrictions Report, sponsored by Rep. Constance Howard, amends the Task Force on Inventorying Employment Restrictions Act. This bill requires that the Task Force submit findings with recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly when employment restrictions are not reasonably related to public safety. This legislation provides that all state agencies’ shall produce a report for the Task Force that describes the employment restrictions that are based on criminal records for each occupation under the agencies’ jurisdiction.

HB 298, Chief House Sponsor, Rep. Constance Howard, “Permits the sealing of arrest and court records for the offenses of assault, battery, solicitation of a sexual act, and patronizing a prostitute.” It also “permits the sealing of the records of a person charged with a felony if the charge results in acquittal, dismissal, or the petitioner’s release without conviction or the charge results in a conviction, but the conviction was reversed or vacated.”

This year also saw the passage of Overdose Immunity, SB 1701, sponsored by Sen. John Millner. Amending the Illinois Controlled Substances Act and the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act, this legislation “provides that a person who, in good faith, seeks or obtains emergency medical assistance for someone experiencing an overdose shall not be charged or prosecuted for Class 4 felony possession of a controlled, counterfeit, or look-alike substance, a controlled substance analog, or Class 3 felony methamphetamine if evidence for the possession charge was acquired as a result of the person seeking or obtaining emergency medical assistance.” The Act also “provides that the action of seeking or obtaining emergency medical assistance for an overdose may be used as a mitigating factor in a criminal prosecution.”

Rep. LaShawn Ford sponsored HB 1210, legislation that created the State Employment Application Act, stipulating that an application for State employment may not contain any question as to whether the applicant was convicted of or placed on supervision for a non-violent criminal offense. The State application must contain a question as to whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a violent offense that is classified as a felony.

The 97th General Assembly will resume at the end of January 2012. PCG will continue its work on reasonable and compassionate reforms in the Illinois criminal justice system in the coming year.

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