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Advocates propose legislation to streamline resources, other aids to help people let out of prison reintroduce themselves into society


Friday, September 30, 2022  |  Article  |  Associated Press

The next step to improve public safety should be improving help for people recently released from prison so they can return to society as productive members, advocates told members of the House Public Safety and Violence Prevention Task Force Thursday.


The task force met with members of the SAFER Foundation and Live Free Illinois — organizations that work to provide assistance to people convicted for crimes. Advocates from the organizations said making sure people who were formerly incarcerated have access to resources when they are let out of prison helps ensure they won’t return to prison. The advocates proposed several initiatives they hope lawmakers take on.  


Second Chance State Act 


The SAFER Foundation is calling on lawmakers to support a piece of legislation they call the Second Chance State Act, which has not been filed into a bill. The proposal calls for establishing a new state agency to oversee the coordination of resources for people who are released from prison.  


“We feel this will dramatically reduce the likelihood of returning to criminal activity and interaction with the criminal legal system,” said Paul Stewart of Iluminara Public Affairs. 


The proposal calls for using 13 hubs throughout the state that are led by community organizations and overseen by a state agency to coordinate resources for people leaving prison rather than leaving people to seek out resources on their own. The plan would focus on providing resources that are social determinants of health including education, health care, a person’s neighborhood environment, social factors and economic stability.  


“These social determinants of health also have a direct impact on influencing better societal outcomes following involvement with the criminal legal system,” Stewart said.  


“Healthy people equal healthy communities. And there’s been a lot of talk recently about our communities and the state of our communities. We believe that individuals who are returning to the community can return to be productive and contributing residents within their communities, but they need all of the assistance and support,” he said. 


The services already exist, said Kevin Brown, SAFER Communities’ senior director of external affairs and community partnerships. However, they aren’t all consolidated and he said the level of service would improve if the services were coordinated by one agency. 


Felons serving as administrators of estates


Under Illinois law, a person convicted of a felony cannot serve as the administrator of an estate, which advocates say can be a major barrier for a person in need of housing. 


Alex Brown, a leader at Live Free Illinois, said he was released from prison just over a year ago. But before he was sentenced to prison for a felony, his mom died in 2018. Brown was the administrator of the estate and said had she died after he was released from prison, his family could have been forced to deal with a housing crisis. 


Brown said lawmakers should support SB3098 sponsored by Sen. Adriane Johnson (D-Buffalo Grove) and HB4490 sponsored by Rep. Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago). The bills would allow a person convicted of a felony to serve as the administrator of an estate.  


Automatic expungements 


Live Free Illinois is also planning to craft legislation that would allow people with felony convictions or arrest records who qualify for expungements to have their records automatically expunged. 


Calling it the “Clean Slate” initiative, Brown said the proposal wouldn’t change who qualifies for having their record expunged but would address the problem of people not knowing they are eligible for expungement and facing barriers because they are not able to have their record wiped clean. 


“If only 10 percent are informed about it and [agencies] are overwhelmed with the 10 percent they have to deal with now, imagine if they have to deal with the whole 2.2 million” people who qualify for expungement, Brown said. 


This would allow more people to have access to resources like housing or jobs that people with criminal records typically face barriers accessing, advocates said. 


“I’d say if you put barriers in front of reformed individuals, that is a threat to public safety because people are not able to have gain from employment, they’re not able to have housing, they’re not able to provide for their families. And that’s always a risk factor for criminal behavior,” Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) said. 


Lawmakers on the task force were intrigued by the proposal, but encouraged the advocates to refine the details of their proposal and how it would work. Rep. Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa) noted lawmakers approved $1 billion of funding for organizations this year and some of that funding should be used to advertise the possibility of record expungements to people who are eligible. 


The task force’s Republican leader Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) said Republicans are willing to have conversations about the ideas presented Thursday, but the details of the proposal should be ironed out so lawmakers can ensure people released from prison are returning to society “in a safe and responsible way.”