With each criminal conviction the state of Illinois matter-of-factly tells the defendants how long they will spend behind bars. Hidden from view, in the "fine print," is a long list of additional penalties attached to these convictions. 

Only upon leaving prison and while attempting to rebuild their lives do offenders experience, first-hand, how these non-prison "collateral consequences" limit or deny their basic rights to housing, food stamps, education, voting, employment, child custody and much more. 

A 2018 study conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative found that "formally incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27 percent - higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression ... [and] ... Exclusionary policies and practices are responsible for these market inequities."

The study concludes: "A prison sentence should not be a perpetual punishment ... States should implement automation record expungement procedures and reform their licensing practices so as to eliminate the automatic rejection of people with felony convictions."

"The stigma of incarceration and disconnection from the workforce," according to a Council of State Governments report, "are among the challenges people face when trying to find a job after release from prison or jail. People who have been incarcerated earn 40 percent less annually than they had earned prior to incarceration."

Researchers at the Council of State Governments have prepared a list of 1,432 separate "collateral consequences" embedded in Illinois statutes and regulations - waiting to snare persons convicted of a crime. Some consequences kick-in automatically. Others are applied on a case-by-case basis. Some have a set duration, others are indefinite. 

Here are examples of how Illinois' post-prison penalties make the prison-to-society transition more difficult for ex-offenders. 

Employment

"Ineligible to enlist in the Illinois State Guard." A mandatory penalty with an indefinite duration for conviction of any felony.

"Deny vehicle recovery permit." A discretionary penalty with an indefinite duration for conviction of any felony or any misdemeanor. 

"Ineligible for license to operate charter bus." A mandatory penalty with an indefinite duration for conviction of controlled substances offenses, crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money-laundering and crimes of violence, sex offenses and weapons offenses. 

Housing/Public Assistance

"Ineligible for cash public assistance." A mandatory penalty with a variable duration for conviction of controlled substances offenses. 

"Terminate reasonable efforts to reunify minor with parent." A discretionary penalty with an indefinite duration for conviction of crimes of violence and sex offenses. 

"Ineligible for public assistance under the Aid to the Aged, Blind or Disabled program." A mandatory penalty with a variable duration for conviction of crimes involving fraud, dishonesty, misrepresentation or money-laundering.

Occupational Licenses

Because "One out of five working Americans needs a license to work while one in three American adults has a criminal records," the Institute for Justice encourages state lawmakers to repeal needless licenses, scale back anticompetitive licensing laws and strengthen the rights of people with a criminal record to gain meaningful employment. 

To do so, the Institute has prepared, for state adoption, a model legislation titled, "Collateral Consequences in Occupational Licensing Act." And, to date, at least 18 states - including Illinois - have reformed their occupational licensing laws to reduce entry barriers for those with a criminal record. 

According to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center's Restoration of Rights Project, a non-profit organization that tracks legal restrictions on people with a criminal record, Illinois has taken steps to remove employment barriers for ex-offenders. 

Private employers may not inquire into an applicant's criminal record until the first interview or at the point of a job offer. 

By executive order, public employers may not inquire into an applicant's criminal history on the employment application form. 

Comprehensive standards for most non-healthcare licenses require that certain mitigating factors be considered and written reasons be given for a license denial. 

When state legislatures erect legal barriers that make life after prison difficult, if not impossible, they are setting people with a criminal record up for failure - and a trip back to prison. 

Ex-offenders have a personal responsibility to make the lifestyle changes needed to successfully reenter society. Illinois legislators also have a responsibility to give wrongdoers the opportunity to make these changes and to become productive, law-abiding citizens. 

Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the DKT liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization. 

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