New law reduces barriers to park district employment for ex-offenders

New law reduces barriers to park district employment for ex-offenders

Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed a bill allowing ex-offenders with certain drug convictions to apply for jobs with Illinois park districts within seven years of completing a prison sentence or probation.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 3005 into law Aug. 22, amending the Illinois Park District Code to allow ex-offenders with certain specified drug offenses on their records to apply for employment with a park district seven years after completing a prison sentence or probation.

Previously, Illinois law prohibited park district employment for anyone with a conviction for certain drug offenses.

SB 3005 was one of five criminal justice reform bills the governor signed into law Aug. 22, aimed at reducing recidivism and providing opportunities for ex-offenders.

Allowing nonviolent ex-offenders a better chance to re-enter the workforce is key to reducing crime and recidivism rates. The lack of employment opportunities leads many ex-offenders to return to crime, and the state’s high recidivism rate carries heavy social and financial costs for communities and taxpayers.

Incarceration alone costs taxpayers nearly $22,000 per inmate each year, totaling $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2015. And despite the steep cost, the corrections system is ineffective at helping inmates turn away from crime: Over 45 percent of offenders in Illinois released from prison each year will have returned three years later. Illinois taxpayers will pay approximately $5.7 billion for recidivism costs over the next five years if the recidivism rate remains the same. And that’s not even counting the costs borne by crime victims or the losses from foregone economic activity.

Eliminating barriers to work for ex-offenders will help alleviate the burden on taxpayers, as well as give ex-offenders a better chance at rehabilitation and becoming productive members of society.

Illinoisans of all political stripes agree. A recent Illinois Policy Institute-commissioned poll of 500 Illinois registered voters found 76 percent of respondents believe ex-offenders should have access to occupational licenses.

Rauner has aimed to reduce the state’s prison population 25 percent by 2025, which will relieve pressure on the state’s dangerously overcrowded prisons and save taxpayers money. Clearing employment barriers for ex-offenders through measures such as SB 3005 is a good step toward this goal.

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