Bill puts qualification before conviction in job search

Bill puts qualification before conviction in job search

URBANA — Have you ever been convicted of a crime, other than a minor traffic violation?

For former offenders, that question, routinely included in most job applications, can be the source of much anxiety as they reintegrate into society and start looking for a job, a key step in keeping them from sliding back into a criminal lifestyle.

Where does James Kilgore's situation fit in this? Let Tom Kacich know here

But some employers may automatically toss out any applications in which the candidate has checked the "yes" box.

The dilemma has prompted a nationwide "Ban the Box" movement, and Illinois is one of a handful of states that could soon prevent employers from automatically disqualifying candidates based on prior convictions. In May, the General Assembly passed the "Best Candidate for the Job Act," which allows ex-offenders to be judged on their qualifications for a job before their criminal history is considered, according to Dave Blanchette, Gov. Pat Quinn's spokesman. Quinn intends to sign the bill, he said. It will take effect in 2015.

"I'm all for it," career coach Janice Coleman said of the legislation.

Shifting the focus from people's backgrounds and more toward their skills will help give them a second chance, she said. "And everyone deserves a second chance. ... They did a crime, they paid the fine, they did the time," she said.

The former Danville Area Community College instructor was sent to the New Directions Treatment Center in Danville after she was arrested for possession of cocaine in 2010. There, she organized Second Chance, a 10-week program to help former offenders find jobs. They practiced interviewing, created resumes and drafted "letters of explanation," which outlined the stories behind their criminal backgrounds.

"When they get a job, recidivism goes way down. They really do want to do well, become self-sufficient again and get off the welfare rolls," Coleman said.

Now at Goodwill Industries in Danville, she helps former felons and others who have barriers to finding employment. She also works with employers, informing them about the benefits of hiring an ex-offender — such as tax breaks — and trying to get them to believe they will not hire a "hardcore criminal, but a person who made a mistake."

In related state-level action, Quinn last year issued a "Ban the Box" executive order to ensure that those who have paid their debt to society should not necessarily be barred from employment, Blanchette said.

"Governor Quinn feels that hiring managers should have the opportunity to learn of a candidate's skills and qualifications before making a decision based on their history," Blanchette said. "Ex-offenders should not face a life sentence of no job prospects and no life opportunities just because they have served time in prison."

In Illinois, the recidivism rate is at 47 percent, which is down from recent years, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections, which holds several "Summit of Hope" expos a year for ex-offenders. There, they can learn about obtaining identification, applying for health care coverage and job seeking.

"The Department of Corrections does not believe that unemployment is a reason to commit felonies. That's an excuse, and we don't make excuses here. We're also logical. It's proven that employment is the best way to avoid criminal behavior," IDOC's Tom Shaer said.

"We realize it's not easy for ex-offenders to find a job. But we also know you are more likely to go straight when you have a job to go straight with," he said.

'Twice as hard'

For James Winston, who became addicted to heroin after serving in the Vietnam War and who eventually became involved in a variety of criminal acts, it took some time to "go straight."

What happens in many cases is former felons will give up quickly, said the 65-year-old Winston, now a successful barber in Urbana.

"The spirit of perseverance is not there," he said.

Winston spent decades in and out of prison. While serving his sentences, he earned trophies in weightlifting contests and picked up certificates to work in food service and an auto mechanic's shop. But it wasn't until his last stint in prison, in 2005, that he focused on the spiritual and his "inner man." And until then, he hadn't truly understood the character-building power of work.

Winston today often speaks with young men in the community and tells them they need to realize the following.

"I put myself in this position. I've got to work twice as hard. Once they accept that ... somewhere out there someone will not mind giving someone a second chance," he said.

'Taking the chance'

Delaying the inquiry into a candidate's criminal history — and thus being open to giving second chances — is an approach one Urbana business has taken for over a year.

Now a supporter of banning the box, Jacqueline Hannah, general manger of Common Ground Food Co-op, said she didn't come to that decision right away. When Hannah was first approached by supporters of the movement, she hesitated. It wasn't long after a disgruntled employee shot and killed a store manager at a Vermont co-op and Hannah was acutely aware of her responsibility to protect people from those who might do them harm.

The Brattleboro, Vt., co-op shooting "was fresh in my mind," Hannah said. "I told them, 'I really want to do the right thing. I am also so aware of protecting employees. I'm not sure if the two can go together.' "

She's since learned that employers continue to have a right to information about a candidate's background and it can still be a consideration in the hiring decision.

"You just don't do it from Day 1, but when you decide if he or she is the right person for the company," she said.

The co-op has gone from fewer than 10 employees in 2007 to about 100 now. And they're planning to open a second store in Champaign.

As at other businesses, candidates first fill out a job application. But what's different at Common Ground is the first page does not ask for a name or a person's criminal background. The focus is on job experience.

"It's about trying to clear away our natural human biases," Hannah said.

Once someone is offered an interview and he or she goes through the process, the co-op makes a conditional employment offer.

"They have had an opportunity to meet us, to impress us, to talk about who they are," she said.

The offer is contingent on the co-op conducting a background check. If the person has a criminal background, it is at this point in the process the candidate can respond in writing to the co-op's question, "What have you done to rehabilitate yourself since that time?"

The candidate also can choose to meet the human resources manager and have a "one-on-one, in-person experience to discuss their history," Hannah said.

If the co-op finds something on the record that was not disclosed, the candidate is automatically not hired — "We have to have honesty," she said.

If the candidate doesn't agree to the background check, they also part ways.

Hannah must approve the hiring of any applicants with criminal records. There are a lot of judgment calls.

In one scenario, she said, a candidate may have a history of stealing from an employer, but it was seven years ago and the person has since earned degrees and bettered himself and is willing to talk about the past and what he's done to improve his life.

In another scenario, someone was convicted six months ago for an assault at work but is not willing to discuss it.

Hannah views the new process as a respectful one.

"They are grateful for the opportunity, that we're treating them like human beings and that we're taking the chance on them," she said.

'Tell the truth'

Box or no box, Winston said the key for ex-offenders is to "get out and get busy."

Fill out those applications, knowing that many will be crumpled up and tossed in the trash, he said. Ex-offenders need to realize they will have to work twice as hard as others looking for jobs these days.

When he returned from prison in 2007, he first took a job in food service. The man who hired him said, "I don't care about your past. I care about your future."

With his future in mind, he obtained his barber's license. He started cutting hair at a friend's shop in the morning and in the afternoon and evenings he cut hair in his house. Eventually, he was able to rent space on Washington Street in Urbana and then expand to a larger space in Sunnycrest Mall off Philo Road. Winston keeps a stack of free Bibles on a counter and has plenty of verses memorized, passages including "for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."

"Don't get concerned about boxes," he said. "Fill it out, tell the truth."

New rules

Illinois House Bill 570 — better known as the Best Candidate for the Job Act — passed in both houses in May and was sent to Gov. Pat Quinn, who intends to the sign the bill. Come Jan. 1, 2015, here's how employers will be required to treat all job applicants:


Inquire into or require disclosure of a job applicant's criminal record or criminal history before the candidate has been notified that the candidate has been selected for a job interview or has been offered a conditional offer of employment.


Consider the nature and gravity of a candidate's conviction record, the time elapsed since the conviction and whether the conviction has a direct bearing on the candidate's fitness before excluding a candidate.

From prison to ...

The popular areas prisoners moved after being released in fiscal year 2013 — by zip code — according to estimates kept by the Illinois Department of Corrections:

Zip City Total

61832 (Danville) 147

61820 (Champaign) 98

61821 (Champaign) 98

61834 (Danville) 84

61801 (Urbana) 78

61866 (Rantoul) 64

61802 (Urbana) 62

Notes: In addition to prison discharges, there are 529 active parolees in Champaign County and 276 in Vermilion County, according to IDOC.

Unlike with parolees, IDOC is not required by law to keep tabs of prisoners discharged outright and bases statistics on last known address.

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danrice56 wrote on July 06, 2014 at 8:07 am

Good news for anyone running for governor!

Ron wrote on July 06, 2014 at 12:07 pm

... and former govenors.

Lostinspace wrote on July 06, 2014 at 3:07 pm

And university presidents.

Local Yocal wrote on July 06, 2014 at 1:07 pm
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Did Ms. Des Garennes ever check with Champaign County Court Services to determine how many people in Champaign County are currently convicted, but merely on probation?

Does the census ever track the number of people residing in the county who have a felony or misdemeanor conviction? I think the size of that number would surprise some.

I'm curious too what is the history of this question on an employment application. What insurance agency, human resource department, what police department, what university produced the definitive study that correlated a criminal record with crime at the workplace?

Of all the crimes that are committed at the workplace, how many were done by a person with a previous criminal conviction?

SaintClarence27 wrote on July 09, 2014 at 8:07 am

I would be interested to see that study. Although I think some crimes in particular would be predictive - theft, drug possession, etc.

ronaldo wrote on July 06, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Until the state takes full responsibility for "former" offenders who become repeat offenders on the new job, employers will find a way around this ridiculous bill.  Yet all you rehab feel-gooders can sleep well now.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on July 07, 2014 at 3:07 am
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That's right, Ronaldo!  EVERYONE who ever commits a crime is a criminal FOREVER!  No such thing as a "former" criminal!  We should just put a big scarlet "C" on their foreheads and ship em' out of the country!

Not really though.  People like you don't want to hear about how there should be better avenues for people to succeed once they get out of prison, and then you complain when they turn back to crime because there are no other ways for them to support themselves.

And then, people like you, who always want something to complain about, can sleep well at night.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on July 07, 2014 at 7:07 am
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Ab Jones 71, you strike me as a free thinker, something of a libertarian.


I wonder how you feel about this subject from the perspective of an employer who's trying to run a business + not get sued + not subject employees to dangerous/uncomfortable conditions?

As far as I can tell, all three of those concerns would be on the minds of actual business owners. 

For me, it's the second question. I think smart corporate lawyers advise their companies/clients to avoid doing business in jurisdictions where (pardon me for saying so) ridiculous laws threaten the companies' profits, even their existence.


I further believe that the phrase "rust belt" proves my point. Would we have that phrase if misguided labor/management ideology were not codified into law?



alabaster jones 71 wrote on July 07, 2014 at 9:07 pm
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I don't subscribe to any particular ideology.  I think that all ideologies, political or otherwise, are dangerous and impede human progress.  Liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat......these are all just made-up concepts for people too lazy to think for themselves.

I would agree that there are way too many things you can be sued for in this country, and in Illinois in particular.  I would also agree that there are a lot of frivilous laws on the books.

However, I don't think this is one of them.  Employers are still able to do criminal background checks.  This law just makes it a little more difficult for businesses to lazily assume that anyone who has ever committed a crime at some point in their lives can never be trusted again.

ronaldo wrote on July 07, 2014 at 10:07 am

Unfortunately for your paper thin ability to process thought, it's the owner's business and their decision who to hire - not your lap dog Quinn's.

And "free thinker"?  Really now.  I didn't see you lift your leg on Rob's narrow-minded comment of "...and all Republicans" above.  The only definition of "free" in your thinking is the inability to assign worth to it.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on July 10, 2014 at 12:07 am
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Why wouldn't Republicans celebrate/salivate over any controversial law suppoerted/passed by the Dems?


That's just common sense.


And why was my comment removed?

Joe American wrote on July 06, 2014 at 1:07 pm

"In May, the General Assembly passed the "Best Candidate for the Job Act'...."

Excellent!  Will this finally do away with set asides for women and minorities?

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on July 07, 2014 at 6:07 am
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I'll admit it; I laughed.

keyslammer wrote on July 06, 2014 at 10:07 pm
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It just defeats the purpose for so many people who have been in the system to go into prison, get their GED, get college courses under their belt at the states expense, get training in things from welding to barber/beauty college, many many things and then get out only to find out nobody will hire a felon if they are fresh out of prison.  It just amazes me at the ignorance.  They teach the offenders, but then they don't focus on teaching the general public that most of these people are perfectly capable of living a meaningful and productive life outside of prison and WANT to lead a meaningful and productive life outside of prison and CRIME FREE!!!  They just need the closed minded people to give them a chance.  Give them a chance people, you might (and probably WILL BE) pleasantly surprised.   

bluegrass wrote on July 07, 2014 at 10:07 am

keyslammer you just nailed it.  It's those darn, ignorant "they."  You should start a business, sink countless hours of your own personal time, energy, and fortune into that business, and hire felons fresh out of prison as employees.  That will show "they."



Local Yocal wrote on July 07, 2014 at 10:07 am
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1) the legislation and practice would still allow an employer to discover a person's criminal record. What convicts are asking in this piece of legislation is that employers give convicts a one-on-one, face to face meeting to explain their past. From there the employer retains the right to decide whether or not to take a chance.

Before, a checked box for a criminal conviction caused the employment application to be tossed in the garbage.

2) Most convictions are for non-violent offenses.

3) A pool of tax money (how much? calculate how much is lost when employers have a criminal incident happen at their workplace) should be set aside as "risk insurance" for employers who take a chance on an ex-offender (a benefit to society) and have that ex-offender cause an employer to take a loss. The tax credit Quinn is offering is nice, but what's needed is employers would get compensated for damages caused by a repeat offender.

Again, some real scientific bean-counting is in order to determine how often a former sex offender commits another offense at the workplace, a drug offender commits another offense at the workplace, ect. It would probably be discovered that having a criminal record or NOT having a criminal record has no predictive power whether a crime will occur at the workplace.

What we can't have is people getting convicted (In Champaign County, it's about 4000 people a year) and then be banished forever from the economy to sit idle on welfare forevermore. Since 2000, our poverty rate has went from 10% to what it is currently today: 24.5%. Why? when over $900 million dollars of economic development has occurred in the last 20 years?

Chambanacitizen wrote on July 07, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Rob and rolnaldo are trolls. If you notice, they comment on most articles here.  The ignorance displayed in these comments, as above, only proves they should not even be replied to.

With that said, everyone, including the two abover mentioned, can talk all the crap they want about how they want the world to be. The reality is, a vast majority of people in this country know someone touched by the corrupt judicial system, and prison system. 

If someone sold cocaine during college 10 years ago, but have since then completed rehab, probation, and earned two degrees...should they be thrown out of the job pool, although much more qualified?  It's discrimination, and people are realizing it, and it is coming to an end. If you are the type of person who looks at the paper and not the person...well karma has you on her list.  

I pray that Rob or ronaldo never have to face that reality. I don't want anyone to have to deal with it.  You two are very lucky if you are in a position to sit on your high horse and judge others. 

On the other hand, I hope you are denied a job you want because you are too fat, old, commited a crime years ago, wrong sex, race, or any of the other discriminatory practices out there. Then you would understand how it feels.

ronaldo wrote on July 07, 2014 at 6:07 pm



noun: irony the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

A truer definition of "troll" can't be had after reading Chambanacitizen's post, although I am going against my better judgement and feeding the troll.

First, he/she calls those who post something that they disagree with "trolls".  To enlighten you, that's not what a troll is. The definition of a troll includes "the art of deliberately, cleverly, and secretly pissing people off, usually via the internet, using dialogue."  It has nothing to do with stating facts and opinions that gets your panties in a bind, so get with the program.  Your opening lines are classic trolling.

Secondly, I challenge you back up your claim of "they (Ronaldo, in particular) comment on most articles here".

Yes, it's "discrimination", but so is choosing one restaurant over another or one painter to paint your living room over another.  You discriminate every day.  So do I.  It's not wrong in the least because "criminal" is not a constitutionally protected class and will never be.  Don't like it?  Don't commit a crime.  Or better yet, start your own business and hire who YOU want.


alabaster jones 71 wrote on July 07, 2014 at 10:07 pm
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I think that an even better idea would be to just wipe almost all convictions off of the records entirely, after a certain period of time out of prison without any more convictions.  Wouldn't that be the best motivation for people getting out of prison to keep their noses clean?

If I ran a business, I wouldn't have any problem hiring someone who had been convicted of a crime many years ago, paid their debt to society, and stayed out of trouble for many years after being released from their sentence.  Hiring someone fresh out of prison would be much more worrisome.  You would have nothing to back up their assertion that they were done with crime, except for their word.

Chambanacitizen wrote on August 04, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I searched your user name...and what do you know. Everyone take a look at my earlier point. ronaldo has been accused of trolling before, and you can see that he does, in fact, weigh in on many articles on here.