New law helps nonviolent offenders have records sealed

By Heather Niemetschek
Illinois Policy

On Aug. 17, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 3149, which was sponsored by Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, and Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan. The new law is a bipartisan measure that promotes the successful re-entry into society of criminal offenders who have taken steps to better themselves while incarcerated.

Under the law, those nonviolent offenders who complete certain educational programs and earn degrees while incarcerated can petition to have their criminal records “sealed” earlier than they would otherwise be permitted to do. Eligible degrees include high-school diplomas, associate degrees, career certificates, vocational and technical certifications, bachelor’s degrees and GED diplomas.

When a person’s criminal records are “sealed,” those records are unable to be seen by anyone other than law enforcement, agencies granting occupational licenses and parties with court orders. This does not happen automatically: An offender must petition the court where the charges against him or her were brought and must supply that court with a variety of documents and information, including drug tests. The petitioning offender may face a hearing if objections to the sealing arise.

The following offenses are not sealable:

  • Sex offenses
  • Crimes of violence
  • Domestic violence cases, including:
    • Aggravated assault
    • Violation of an order of protection
    • Domestic battery
    • Aggravated battery
    • Aggravated domestic battery
  • Gun cases
  • Driving under the influence cases

Normally, ex-offenders must wait three to four years after the end of their sentences (including probation) to begin the petition process. This new law allows those who have earned the relevant degrees while in prison to apply immediately after completing their sentences. The most significant ramification of this stepped-up timetable is that ex-offenders whose records have been sealed are more employable and can more easily return to productive lives.

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 and becomes a productive member of society. This law should spur offenders to improve themselves and will assist those who do with productive reintegration into society upon their release from prison.

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