Friday, May 11, 2012

Legislators look into state hiring practices

By Ashley Griffin

A group of lawmakers is looking into state agencies’ polices on hiring people with criminal backgrounds, and some advocates would like to see more clarity in the hiring practice.

 A task force created in 2009 is trying to assess how criminal records come into play when the state is filling jobs. The group is working to compile a report with details, such as the number and percentage of individuals who underwent a background check, the number of individuals who were disqualified based on a criminal background and other details for hiring practices for state agencies. “What we hope to see is to give people with criminal records a lay of the land or what’s on the playing field. If I am applying for the comptroller’s office, what positions are restrictive? And if I have a criminal record, I know I can’t apply for this position,” said Anthony Lowery, director of policy and advocacy for the Safer Foundation, a group that seeks to reduce the recidivism rates of ex-convicts by helping them find jobs. Groups targeting poverty and recidivism have called upon the state to set an example by loosening its policies on hiring individuals with criminal backgrounds for some positions. They hope that such a change would encourage the private sector to follow suit.

 But since the creation of the task force nearly three years ago, some advocates believe that it is still hard for convicted criminals to find employment with a state agency They say it is unclear which positions might be restricted and what information the state is using to disqualify applicants.

 “The big part of it is also you have people who have arrest records that have never been convicted and arrest records also are being used to discriminate, so what we are trying to do is get state government to step up and just do an inventory of the job titles.”

 According to Lowery, nearly one-third of the Illinois’ population has some type of criminal record, including arrests.

 Rep. Constance Howard, who is chairwoman of the task force, said she is unhappy with how slowly the work has been going. Howard said the group is having trouble getting information from various agencies. “Apparently, there has been no regard for the deadlines, I have been trying to catch up with this, and again, I have not been very pleased with the way it is going,” she said.

 The group is scheduled to present a report to Gov. Pat Quinn in September.

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