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State offers leeway for some job applicants with records

    Illinois has joined a fast-growing number of states, cities and counties that no longer require prospective employees to disclose criminal records in initial job applications.
    In October, Gov. Pat Quinn signed an executive order that removes questions about criminal history from applications for jobs with state agencies, boards and commissions.
    “A law-abiding citizen’s past mistakes should not serve as a lifetime barrier to employment,” Quinn said in announcing his action. “Creating opportunities for ex-offenders to obtain gainful employment and reach their full potential as a member of society is one of the most effective tools for reducing recidivism. As we know, the best tool to reduce poverty, drive down crime and strengthen the economy is a job.”
    The governor’s order did not stop agencies from looking into an applicant’s criminal history but postpones that inquiry until later in the hiring process.
    “An agency, board or commission may request permission to research a candidate’s criminal history only after the candidate has been deemed eligible and is being considered for a specific position,” the order reads.
    Job seekers have long had to deal with “the box” on job applications, the box that’s next to a question that asks if the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime.
    Those questions have been a significant obstacle to gainful employment for many former offenders, according to the National Employment Law Project, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that estimates that 65 million Americans — one of every four adults — have criminal records.
    In 2012, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommended removal of such questions from job applications as a best practice for all employers, public and private.
    Quinn’s directive makes Illinois one of 10 states to adopt so-called “ban-the-box” measures since Hawaii first did so in 1998.
    More than 50 cities, counties and other jurisdictions have taken similar actions. In Illinois, the city of Chicago removed the criminal-history question from its job application forms in 2007.
    Minnesota-based Target, the nation’s second-largest retailer, has removed the question from its job applications nationwide.
    David Stoecklin, the administrator of Madison County’s Employment and Training Program, said a criminal record can be a serious problem when it comes to getting a good job.
    “It has to do with the crime and the particular circumstances,” Stoecklin said, but added that a felony conviction often disqualifies otherwise-qualified job seekers. It’s an even bigger impediment in a tight job market.
    Stoecklin said his department runs background checks to avoid training or referring clients for jobs they aren’t likely to get. He has reservations about the ban-the-box movement.
    “Do you really want to burden both the business and the applicant with going through the process when an applicant is not going to get the job in any case?” he said.
    State Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, prosecuted wrongdoers as Madison County state’s attorney for 14 years and has often taken a hard line on criminal matters as a legislator but supports this issue, at least regarding crimes that did not involve malice. Haine said an applicant’s criminal history must still be carefully reviewed somewhere in the hiring process.
    “People make mistakes,” he said. “I’m a member of the Church of the Second Chance.”
    The “box” didn’t keep one former street gang member from landing several jobs with the state, and recent disclosures of his convoluted employment history seem likely to bring about new legislative scrutiny of state hiring practices. Xadrian McCraven was fired Jan. 6 from a job with the Department of Corrections after articles in the Chicago Sun-Times.
    McCraven was hired by the Department of Children and Family Services in 2000 but rejected as unfit for jobs with the DOC in 2007 and 2011. Nevertheless, McCraven was “detailed” to the DOC in 2011 to work as an investigator, only to be sent back to DCFS two months later.
    Fired from DCFS in 2012 on allegations of falsifying a job application and sending and responding to lewd emails, McCraven sued the state. State officials reached an agreement to avoid appeals. As part of the settlement, he was given a $111,432-a-year job as senior adviser to the DOC chief of parole.
    The Sun-Times said McCraven disclosed on one job application that he had been a gang member for two years in the late 1980s. He had three misdemeanor convictions, the paper reported.
    Two Republican legislators, Reps. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, and John Anthony, R-Morris, said they would draft a bill to prohibit hiring of former gang members by Illinois State Police and other agencies.

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