Harmon measure giving ex-offenders fair access to employment, housing signed into law

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SPRINGFIELD – Legislation sponsored by Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) that aims to eliminate lifetime barriers to employment for adults who committed crimes as youth was signed into law today.

The measure makes it easier for people to have certain arrests sealed by a judge in Illinois, allowing them opportunities for jobs, housing and education that they might have been denied otherwise.

“It is fundamentally unfair that someone who made a bad decision earlier in life should never be given a second chance,” Harmon said. “If these men and women have paid their debt and served their sentence, they should not be shackled with a document that forever deprives them of the ability to take care of themselves and their families.”

The legislation does not immediately seal criminal records for every offender, but rather creates a process by which someone can go to court and request their records sealed. A judge will ultimately have discretion on whether or not to grant the request.

Harmon worked closely with one individual who will benefit from the legislation – Quintin Williams, a 33-year-old doctorate student, husband and father who was recently denied a teaching position because the employer feared he would have a negative influence on students.

Williams, a fourth-year Loyola University student earning his doctorate in sociology, is forever bound to a record for crimes he committed as a teenager and in his early 20s – crimes he regrets and for which he paid his debt to society.

Since then, thanks in large part to his faith and to the countless people who saw potential in him along the way, Williams has dedicated himself to his work, his studies and his family. He’s stayed out of trouble, worked several jobs, earned college degrees and participated in anti-violence efforts.

The National Employment Law Project estimates, using U.S. Department of Justice statistics, that 42 percent of Illinois adults have a criminal record, whether it’s an arrest or some other brush with the law.

Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago) sponsored the legislation in the House. It is an initiative of The Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois, which includes the Heartland Alliance, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, the Community Renewal Society, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the FORCE Project (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality).

House Bill 2373 becomes effective immediately.