Ex-offenders in Illinois won't have to disclose their criminal pasts until private employers first evaluate their job skills, under a new law signed Saturday by Gov. Pat Quinn.
Some who attended the bill signing ceremony at St. Michael Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's West Side likened the change to the biblical story of the prodigal son, whose father welcomed him back into the family fold even though he had wasted his inheritance by living extravagantly.
"This is the culmination of hope for so many individuals," said State Rep. Rita Mayfield, a Waukegan Democrat.
Among those in attendance at the ceremony was 34-year-old Eddie Parker of Chicago, who said he served six years at the Vandalia Correctional Center for drug possession. Though he was released a decade ago, Parker, a certified butcher, said it has been difficult to secure a job because of his criminal record.
"It's that box," he said, referring to portion of a job application asking someone to check off whether they have a criminal history. "Without it, it can change a lot. It gives us a chance to tell you our story. A person can change a lot coming back to society."
The bill, passed this spring by the Legislature, makes Illinois the fifth state to bar private employers from requiring the disclosure of a criminal history or a criminal background check until an applicant is determined qualified for a position. Some construction jobs, emergency medical jobs and security jobs are exempt. It takes effect next Jan. 1.
Illinois already bars state agencies from asking about criminal histories on initial government job applications, an executive order issued by Quinn last year, and a report by the Illinois Task Force on Inventorying Employment Restrictions followed with the recommendation that private employers should follow suit.
"All of us in our society in every faith, we believe in redemption," the Democratic governor said. "If we're going to fight violence, if we're going to make sure that we have a society that emphasizes opportunity and jobs and taking care of your family, this legislation is ... imperative to help everyone to have the opportunity to get a job."
Quinn, who is running for re-election in a nationally-watched race against Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, has made reducing recidivism a focus of his tenure in office.