Legislation awaiting the governor’s signature would give former offenders a second chance when it comes to obtaining a state-approved professional license.
The state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation could no longer use a conviction as the sole reason for denying a professional license. The measure would allow some prior certifications to be reinstated and would give greater latitude to holders of licenses in industries that are unrelated to the original felony conviction.
Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association of Illinois, said the law would be an important first step in helping former offenders get on the right track after they’ve been released. "Anything that we can do to help people get professional licensure so that they canget jobs and take care of themselves and become productive members of society is a really important thing, and a very important step for Illinois.”
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She said former offenders already face a steep challenge when it comes to reintegrating into society after serving long segments of time away from it, and that it’s in communities’ best interests to develop programs to help them. "We need to prepare people and support people uponrelease so they can re-enter society and have a chance at becoming productive members of society, and currently we don't do enough to help people do that."
The challenges of getting and keeping a job were some of the reasons they drifted to a life of crime in the first place, Vollen-Katz said. “And now that they have a felony conviction on their record, it's even harder.”
And when it gets harder to put food on the table, it becomes easier to be drawn back down the path of crime. "When you can't pay for your rent, or feed yourself, or take care of all the things we need to take care of on a regular basis, like paying for transportation to get to an interview, to getto a job, we're making it impossible for people to be successful,” Vollen-Katz said.