Illinois Bill Would OK Inmate Pre-Release Job Searches

Inmates nearing the end of their incarceration could be given the opportunity to search specific career-building websites. A prison watchdog group says the legislation could make a significant difference in the re-entry process.

by Robert Connelly, The Register-Mail / February 11, 2019

(TNS) — A new bill introduced in the Illinois General Assembly would allow inmates nearing their release online access to search for jobs.

State Sen. Chuck Weaver, R-Peoria, introduced Senate Bill 156 on Jan. 29; on Feb. 6 the bill was referred to the State Government Committee.

SB 156 would allow each committed person in an Illinois Department of Corrections "institution or facility to access specific and approved job search and career building websites within a specified period before the person's release from the Department of Corrections institution or facility and to access only those job search and career building websites," the bill says.

That would happen after a rule or best practices protocol is adopted to allow this to occur, the bill says.

"These computers will be limited to job sites for searching and application. The technology exists so that there are not people getting on inappropriate sites while still in a re-entry facility," Weaver said.

The idea for the bill came from a person who was at the Peoria re-entry facility. The Kewanee Life Skills Center also recently graduated its second class of welders.

"With today's technology many employers are requiring people to begin the job application process online, and without an ability to get online from the facilities where these men live, there's no possibility of getting employment," Weaver said.

"I've had a really good response on this bill that people are positive about what we're trying to accomplish and understand the need to get these men that are coming out of prison jobs."

Weaver further said he has received "numerous positive calls. I have not had any calls where anyone has a negative concern on it."

Lindsey Hess, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said in an emailed response to SB 156 that the bill is under review by the IDOC.

Weaver did say he knows that IDOC "is already working towards accomplishing this and we want to be sure there is nothing that legislatively slows this down."

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director at the John Howard Association, said her organization, a prison watchdog group, will support and advocate for SB 156.

"We think it's fantastic. It's really important for people that are incarcerated to lay the foundation for life after release once they're after prison so to allow people to search for a job while they're in prison will help to that end," she said.

When asked the impact on a person coming out of prison, if this bill were to pass, with a job in hand, Vollen-Katz said "it would make a huge difference."

"I think it will make a big difference in terms of putting structure around release ... they need a place to live and a way to earn money that's legal so if someone knows they have a job to go to that would provide an enormous amount of relief as they would know they'd be able to afford housing."

Weaver said 45 percent of every prisoner released in Illinois will be back in prison in three years. Citing another statistic, Weaver said it costs $37,000 per inmate when factoring in the cost of prison facilities, salary of employees at those institutions and pensions.

"To have that person sitting in a prison costing us $37,000 rather than working in a job like welding and they're paying taxes and the fact that when they are working, and not going back to prison, there is not a victim that suffers, our society is ahead," he said.

©2019 The Register-Mail, Galesburg, Ill. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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