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CSG Justice Center experts suggest ways states can remove work barriers for ex-offenders

by Katelyn Tye ~ August 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For individuals returning from jail or prison, meaningful employment is crucial to successful reentry into the community. But getting a job can be challenging for applicants with a criminal record. During a session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee, experts from The Council of State Governments’ Justice Center discussed actions that policymakers can take to improve employment outcomes.
Stephanie Akhter, director of the center’s reentry and employment program, suggested that one role for states is to integrate reentry and employment strategies. Right now, she told lawmakers, efforts to train individuals for work and to help them transition to the community often occur on parallel tracks. A pilot project in Wisconsin (which is receiving support from the Justice Center) provides one example of how states can provide for greater integration of these services: It tailors community-based reentry and vocational programs based on each individual’s risk of reoffending and his or her level of job readiness.
Later in the session, Chidi Umez, who manages the Justice Center’s work on criminal records, detailed state policies that can either help or hinder employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals.
In the Midwest, Illinois and Minnesota have enacted “ban the box” policies that prohibit all employers from requesting a job applicant’s criminal record until the individual has been selected for an interview or after a conditional offer of employment is made. Ohio, Nebraska and Wisconsin have similar “fair chance” hiring policies that apply only to public employers.
Other state laws, however, may keep people with criminal records from entering the workforce. According to the National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction (an online tool created by the Justice Center), more than 20,000 state and federal laws restrict employment for people with records.
In Illinois, lawmakers have taken steps to remove some of the employment barriers caused by occupational licensing restrictions. Under last year’s HB 5973, for example, the state must now consider “mitigating factors” surrounding a criminal conviction before denying an application for certain occupations. A bill passed this year (SB 1688, awaiting the governor’s signature as of mid-July) expands those provisions to more licensed occupations.


Article written by Katelyn Tye, staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee.