ROCKFORD (WREX) – Forty-two percent of people in Illinois have an arrest record or a criminal past, according to a study by the National Employment Law Project.
And until last year, many of those people would have faced significant barriers trying to find a job.
“A lot of these people have been living with records for 20 years, and have been told this whole time that there’s nothing they can do about,” Prairie State Legal Services managing attorney Kim Thielbar said.
However, new laws passed in Illinois over the past two years are starting to open up opportunities.
“It used to be nothing could be sealed expect one or two things,” Thielbar said. “Now, it’s everything can be sealed except one or two things.”
Under the new laws, a person who has been arrested but not convicted may qualify to have the arrest expunged. And even people with certain convictions, including felonies can still get their records sealed, but not if the offense is violent, serious or sexual in nature.
“You have to show quite a few years, that you have turned things around and that your ready to take the next steps,” Senator Steve Stadelman said. “I think there’s plenty of safeguards built in, that people who really deserve this type of action will get it.”
Before those new laws took effect last year, Illinois State Police said an average of 10,000 people applied to have their record expunged or sealed. In the last 12 months that number jumped to 66,000, giving more people a chance to start fresh and growing the potential workforce for employers.
“More options when it comes to hiring people, local people and that’s good for the people who are being hired,” Stadelman said. “That’s good for employers and that’s good for economic development in our community.
Illinois lawmakers have also changed licensing laws to make at least 100 occupations more accessible to people with criminal backgrounds.