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Prisoners, Becoming Professionals


Illinois is making a concerted effort to encourage former prisoners to put skills they learned behind bars to use in the real world. 

Fewer than one percent of applicants with criminal records are turned away when they apply to the state for a professional license, but Illinois' Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation, Bryan Schneider, says anecdotally, the department knows many former convicts don't even try.

Prisoners can attend a state-licensed barber and cosmetology program while they're doing time, but Schneider says when members of Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration asked the students if they were looking to going pro upon release "they say, 'well, we'll never get licensed.' "

But consider it from the perspective of the incarcerated individual, Schneider says.

"Those most recent dealings with the state has been as the entity that locked them up, they're not going to see a licensure process as easy. Or quite frankly as even doable," he said.

Schneider is optimistic that a new license application will change that.

Individuals hoping to become barbers, accountants or nurse practitioners will still be subject to extra scrutiny if they've been to prison. But the first step -- filling out a form -- might seem less scary, now that that the department has removed and simplified legal terminology.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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