Opinion: Criminal justice reform can help solve Illinois’ workforce … – Crain’s Chicago Business


Our state has an opportunity to enact a common-sense solution. Clean-slate laws — which clear qualifying old records if a person stays crime-free for a set period — provide justice-impacted people with an opportunity for a real second chance at success.

Business organizations across the country, including here in Illinois, are coming together to help drive national change on criminal justice reform and solve our workforce challenges. And we know that small businesses are strongly supportive of criminal justice reform policies like clean slate. A recent survey found 85% of small businesses in Illinois agree that clean slate will open a pool of job applicants who deserve a second chance. Enacting this legislation will automatically clear hundreds of thousands of records, increasing opportunities for people stuck in the second-chance gap and benefiting small businesses in their efforts to hire and recruit employees.

The moral case of allowing a person to wipe their slate clean after paying their debt to the system is strong. But the business case is also compelling. Employment is the No. 1 factor in reducing recidivism. Five years after having their records cleared, individuals who benefit from clean slate are less likely to commit a new offense than the general population.

Our state’s recidivism rate is almost 50%. Each instance of recidivism costs Illinois taxpayers more than $150,000, plus another $38,000 for every year that person remains incarcerated. Statewide, this legislation could lead to billions of dollars in increased aggregated earnings by enforcing efforts to employ an underutilized community. These staggering costs don’t make good financial sense for the average taxpayer.

Clean-slate policies with varying levels of feasibility have been debated by policymakers in Illinois for more than two years and are actively being reviewed. This legislation presents a meaningful pathway to addressing ongoing burdens justice-impacted people may face when pursuing employment.

However, other solutions, such as occupational licensing reform, can help to support entrepreneurship. A vast majority (85%) of small businesses support removing barriers to allow people with old convictions fairer access to occupational licenses. Nearly 1 in 4 professions require an occupational or professional license — including plumbing, HVAC and cosmetology — but individuals with records, even those who received certification within their correctional facility, may be barred from entering the field.

More than 1 million small businesses employ nearly half (44.74%) of the private workforce in Illinois, opening an influential role for small employers to play in addressing the labor shortage. “I Have a Bean” is proud to be part of the small-business community and to have used a second-chance hiring business model from our finding — with tremendous success for both our business and our employees.

Second-chance hiring can impact someone’s well-being and influence the trajectory of their livelihood. And research has revealed that small-business owners across the political spectrum in Illinois agree that criminal justice reforms are needed to unlock a pool of second-chance hiring candidates.

Proposed legislative changes like Clean Slate Illinois will help address ongoing workforce challenges and foster a more inclusive economy. Illinois policymakers can improve small-business hiring by supporting policies that allow employers to tap into this vast, diverse and underused workforce of justice-impacted individuals.

Tasha Brown is Midwest director of Small Business Majority. Pete Leonard is founder of I Have a Bean. 

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April 11, 2023 at 08:08PM

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