Criminal record relevant concern

Criminal record relevant concern

As he wages his campaign for re-election, Gov. Pat Quinn is mixing politics and policy in a way that does not serve the public interest.

There's nothing wrong with giving people a second chance, but Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is going about it the wrong way.

Last week, Quinn signed an executive order that will make it easier for individuals convicted of crimes to get a state job. His order eliminates the portion of a state employment application that requires applicants to provide information on their criminal history.

Putting his decision in the best possible light, Quinn said that "a law-abiding citizen's past mistakes should not serve as a lifetime barrier to employment."

The type of person Quinn describes deserves a fair evaluation. But equating a criminal conviction with "past mistakes" is a clever way to minimize unlawful conduct that runs the gamut from criminal mischief to theft, armed robbery and murder.

Besides, this issue is not just about the employee. It's also about the employer and his need to hire a trustworthy person to carry out what could be very important duties.

This issue has been percolating through the political process for several years, largely on the strength of the argument that requiring information about criminal history is racially discriminatory.

Proponents argue that minorities suffer disproportionately under the mandatory disclosure rule because they are arrested and imprisoned in greater numbers than whites. That claim is supported by the numbers, but people who get in trouble with the law aren't selected at random. They make trouble for themselves, one consequence being that their brushes with the law make them less attractive as employees.

Quinn's action does not constitute an outright ban on information regarding criminal history. It merely eliminates the issue during the prospective employee's initial application phase. Supporters of the ban contend that applicants often are rejected early in the application process simply because of their criminal background.

Under Quinn's new hiring arrangement, state agencies will be able to conduct background checks and seek conviction information later in the hiring process.

Unfortunately, politics has as much to do with Quinn's action as the hiring process. Quinn's order gives him another means of selling himself to black voters, who polls indicate are among his strongest supporters. He won't need that voting bloc in the March 2014 primary election now that his main opponent, Chicago's William Daley, has withdrawn from the race. But black voters could play a crucial role in Quinn's fight to win re-election in November 2014, and it's apparent that Quinn will use the vast powers of his office to win their support.

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