State expands ‘certificates of good conduct’ for former offenders

New law gives former offenders the chance to demonstrate rehabilitation and find employment

By Bryant Jackson-Green
Illinois Policy

Illinois has taken an important step toward getting more former offenders back to work. On Aug. 17, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 3475, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016, and expands eligibility for “Certificates of Good Conduct.” Ex-offenders can show these certificates to potential employers as evidence that they have made significant strides in reforming their lives.

A Certificate of Good Conduct is issued by the circuit court that sentenced the offender after a judge reviews the offender’s record. The offender must not only show that he has refrained from further criminal activity, but also that he has taken positive steps to improve himself. Accomplishments like returning to school or completing a job-training program can help demonstrate this.

The new law allows offenders to apply for the certificate after one year of good behavior following time served for a misdemeanor offense, or two years after completing a felony sentence. The reform excludes offenders who’ve committed especially serious crimes such as sex offenses, arson, kidnapping, domestic battery or murder, and anyone who has been convicted of a felony more than twice.

A person’s ability to find work is one of the most important factors determining whether he or she stays out of the criminal-justice system. Research by the Safer Foundation shows that ex-offenders who find work are substantially more likely to avoid re-offending than those who remain unemployed. Certificates of Good Conduct are not a perfect solution to the problem of finding a job after serving a sentence. Current laws, including occupational licensing restrictions and housing regulations, continue to punish former offenders long after they’ve served their time.

But once offenders have successfully completed their sentences, it’s time for them to support themselves, instead of being a continuing drain on taxpayer resources. It makes little sense for government to punish former offenders further by locking them out of the economy and productive work, unless such restrictions are closely related to their offenses. The more difficult it is to find legitimate work, the more likely it is that ex-offenders will turn back to crime to support themselves and their families. That doesn’t serve the public interest, and it costs Illinois taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

Until more effective reforms can be passed, Certificates of Good Conduct are one important way former offenders can demonstrate their trustworthiness to potential employers – who would otherwise be hesitant to hire someone with a criminal record.

HB 3475 is one step toward restoring balance to our criminal justice system, and giving people who have made mistakes the chance to turn their lives around.

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