West Side voters will have a say on what questions prospective employers can ask individuals with criminal backgrounds when the March 21 Primary rolls around.
A referendum has been placed on the ballot for West Side wards ?” 24, 28, 29, and 37.
These wards have the largest concentration of people returning from the Illinois Department of Corrections. According to a study done by the Urban Institute, titled, “Chicago Communities and Prisoner Reentry, Austin (29th and 37th), North Lawndale (24th), and East Garfield Park (28th) lead the list of community areas.
The referendum in part reads, “Shall municipal, county and state governments pass laws to make more jobs opportunities available for non violent ex-offenders, a reasonable amount of time after they have completed any sentence, by eliminating non-violent criminal background questions applicable to them on employment applications?”
Other cities across the country have similar criminal background disclosure laws. Hawaii, for example, does not ask the question at all. The state of Washington only requires that you answer the question if your conviction is less than 10 years old. In California, applicants for jobs are not required to disclose marijuana-related convictions more than two-years old. And in Massachusetts, applicants need not disclose first convictions for several misdemeanors, and in some cases, where the convictions is more than 5 years old.
The West Side measure is an advisory referendum for the four wards.
Some say there are still a fair amount of questions that need to be addressed. For example, what exactly is “a reasonable amount of time, and who decides? Will the ex-offender need to wait days, months or years while he can even apply for employment? And what becomes of him or her in the meantime?
Nevertheless, there were many on the West side who support the having the referendum on the ballot. More than 3,000 people signed a petition for the referendum.
Ramon Prillo, case manager at Eyes on Austin, said that criminals formerly convicted of non-violent offenses should be given an opportunity.
“I’ve worked with many ex-offenders and I’ve seen circumstances where they were convicted of being, essentially unwilling accessories,” said Prillo. “They might have been talking to a person who was carrying unbeknownst to them and when the police arrive they assume that he was buying, but he really didn’t know the friend was carrying. Even when the man carrying admits that his friend had no knowledge of his dealings, he will still face jail time.”
“Shouldn’t he be given another chance?” Prillo asked. “Shouldn’t he be given an opportunity to rebuild his life and find work if given the chance, which has been known to lower recidivism? Certainly.”