In early July, the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Public Safety passed a resolution encouraging Springfield lawmakers to expand criminal record sealing and allow more offenders to have their records sealed sooner. The resolution does not make any legislative changes, but it does indicate that more reforms are on the way.
What might this mean for you if you have a criminal record? First let’s take a look at what criminal record sealing is and how it works in Illinois.
What Is Criminal Record Sealing?
After serving your time, the crimes you committed still follow you as you apply for jobs, housing, and more. This is because criminal records are public information, and can be accessed by anyone who does a quick internet search.
People with criminal records tend to have a harder time getting good jobs, successfully applying for apartments, and more – even if the listed crime or crimes were committed years ago and proper reparations have been made.
That’s where criminal record sealing comes in. It allows eligible records to be hidden from the general public. Law enforcement officials and employers in specific industries (i.e. school administrators) will still be able to access these records, but a landlord or businessman will not.
The Benefits of Record Sealing
In a nutshell, record sealing helps ex-offenders get a fresh start, improve their quality of life, and become a contributing member of society. But let’s break that down a little bit.
Jobs. A study from Northwestern University shows that having a criminal record drastically decreases your likelihood of being called back for a job. To put it in stark numbers, while 34% of white ex-offenders and 14% of black ex-offenders without criminal records are called back, only 17% of white ex-offenders and 5% of black ex-offenders with criminal records are called back. That’s a huge drop.
Finding a job is a necessary part of moving on from being convicted of a crime, and lowers the overall recidivism rate (the rate at which people who have been convicted of a crime in the past return to prison). Statistics gathered by a Safer Foundation program revealed that ex-offenders who held a job for at least 30 days have a recidivism rate of only 16% – far lower than the state average of 50%.
Community. Record sealing is a pretty good deal for ex-offenders, but the community as a whole also benefits from record sealing. How so?
A community with more employment sees higher revenue and lower crime. Record sealing allows more people to be employed regardless of the mistakes they made in the past. Therefore, record sealing can make an area better for everyone.
The Impact of Recent Changes in Policy
Lawmakers in Illinois and throughout the United States have begun to really listen to the facts about record sealing and make legislative reforms to allow more people to have their record sealed. On January 1, 2016, two reforms went into effect in our state. These reforms are designed both to allow more offenders to have their records sealed sooner and to help them have a better chance at finding jobs.
Senate Bill 844 shortened the waiting period to have records sealed by one year for offenders of all eligible crimes. Now, the average waiting period is three years instead of four.
Eligible offenders who have earned a degree or diploma during their time in jail (high-school diploma, GED, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and so on) can get their records sealed even faster thanks to another change – House Bill 3419. Anyone who falls under this category can petition to have their records sealed immediately upon release.
HB 3419 gives offenders a higher chance of being hired in general and of finding better jobs because it not only removes the impediment of a criminal record faster, but provides motivation for individuals to progress in their education.
These changes are likely just the beginning. Lawmakers are shifting their attitudes to allow more ex-offenders get jobs and live without the stigmas of the past. But that doesn’t mean the process is simple or easy.
A knowledgeable record sealing lawyer can help you understand the process, learn whether or not you are eligible, and make sure that you avoid any bumps in the road. Begin your new life with a sealed criminal record. Learn more now.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.