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New Law Aims To Open More Health Jobs To People With Criminal Records

Illinois Office of Communication and Information

People with criminal records could soon have better luck getting jobs in health care.

It’s already legal for someone with a record to work in the health field — if they can get a waiver from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

But until now, waivers could only be requested after someone had a job offer. The new law lets that process begin earlier.

The law was cosponsored by state Sen. Elgie Sims, a Democrat from Chicago. He says he wants people coming out of prison to not only be able to provide for themselves and their families, but to be able to do so “in a legal way.”

“We want to allow them to be able to commit themselves to a life that is better than the one that got them into the situations that they may be facing,” Sims said.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton has made these kinds of changes a priority for her office.

“Our goal is to make it possible to have a viable career and not be automatically excluded for a past mistake,” Stratton said.

Credit handout / Illinois Office of Communication and Information
Illinois Office of Communication and Information
In this screen capture from video, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton speaks in support of a new law intended to make it easier for people with criminal records to find work in the health care field.

The speeded up background checks have limited availability. Potential health care workers must be getting assistance from either legal aid groups or organizations that try to help people leaving prison get jobs and transition back into society.

One of the latter groups is the Safer Foundation, based in Chicago. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the law in one of its facilities.

At a news conference, Safer client Jenny King said she had a hard time with the waiver process, though it does now seem to be on track. Still, she says she’s glad those challenges are being addressed.

“I know that I had to go through this very difficult process,” King said, “but it brings me some joy to know that these who came behind me at Safer Foundation won’t have to go through what I went through.”

The law is Public Act 101-176 (Senate Bill 1965).

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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