Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed a series of bills designed to give individuals with criminal records a second chance at employment, including one that gives employers strong financial motivation to hire ex-offenders.
"Formerly incarcerated individuals shouldn't face a life sentence of no job prospects and no opportunities to better themselves just because they have served time in prison," Governor Quinn said in a statement. "These new laws will help them get back on their feet... and keep one offense from becoming a life-long barrier."
More than 50 percent of released Illinois inmates return to prison within three years, but many legislators believed hiring barriers have played a big role in the high rate of recidivism. As a result, each new law is designed to improve the hopes of qualified ex-offenders to re-enter the workforce.
Big Tax Credits for Employers
Effective immediately, Illinois has increased the income tax credit for employers that hire qualified individuals with criminal records to a maximum of $1500 per employee. That is two-and-a-half times more than the previous income tax credit in Illinois, which was capped at $600. 2013 Bill Tracking IL S.B. 1659.
In addition, employers may claim the tax credit if they hire an ex-offender within three years of his or her release from prison. Previously, the hire had to take place within one year of the job applicant's release. Tax credits per employee may now be taken for up to five years.
Sealing More Criminal Records
Another measure adds a host of nonviolent felonies to the list of offenses for which criminal records may now be sealed - meaning the records are not destroyed but will be unseen by employers. 2013 Bill Tracking IL H.B. 3061. Law enforcement agencies will still have access to the records.
Until now, only those offenses related to drug possession or prostitution were eligible to be sealed in Illinois. Under the new law, the following crimes will be added to the list:
Possession of burglary tools; and
Possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance.
This law does provide some protections for employers. For instance, it requires a person to wait four years from the end of his or her last sentence before he or she may ask for his or her criminal record to be sealed. Also, the measure mandates that individuals pass a drug test within 30 days before filing a petition to seal.
Expungement of Records
Finally, another Illinois law allows for nonviolent convictions to be cleared from a person's record (i.e., expunged), provided that the individual has successfully completed at least two years of probation. This "second chance law" becomes effective January 1, 2014. 2013 Bill Tracking IL H.B. 3010.
Along similar lines, North Carolina and Indiana have recently passed laws prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about expunged criminal records whether on an application, during an interview or otherwise.
All of these measures come on the heels of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) 2012 Enforcement Guidance suggesting that employers should avoid using criminal records as an automatic bar to employment because doing so could disproportionately affect applicants of a particular race or national origin. In that guidance, the EEOC also stated that employers should not consider arrest records without a conviction as proof that an applicant has engaged in criminal conduct.