A new initiative for non-violent offenders offers the chance to have their felony conviction entirely scrubbed from their record. All they have to do is jump through a few extra hoops during a probationary period.
The Offender Initiative Program, created by SB 3349 and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn in August, would extend conditional probation to an offender with the approval of a judge and a state's attorney.
The program would be tougher than probation, but the rewards are larger.
"If someone is sentenced to probation that would mean they were convicted of a crime," said Andrew Conklin, a spokesman for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, whose office would participate in the program. "Under this program, if they complete the steps, charges will be dropped, and thus they will not have a conviction on their record."
A criminal record can prevent people from getting financial aid, healthcare or a job.
The new initiative means the problems that many nonviolent offenders deal with even after they have successfully completed probation are no longer a barrier.
And what would make the bill an additional bonus at a time of tight state budgets is that the program would impose no additional costs, according to Conklin.
"It's the kind of thing we need more of," said John Maki, president of the John Howard Association, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform. "The real brilliance of this legislation is it recognizes that prison is really only one form of accountability."
The felony offenses eligible for help under the program include theft, retail theft, burglary, possession of burglary tools, possession of methamphetamine and forgery.
The conditions, according to a fact sheet from sponsors Sen. Kwame Raoul & Rep. Kimberly du Buclet, are:
- Refraining from violating any criminal statute of this or any other state
- Refraining from possessing a firearm
- Making full restitution to the victim or property owner
- Getting a job or completing at least 30 hours of community service
- Attending educational classes designed to obtain a high school diploma or GED, or complete vocational training;
- Submitting to periodic drug testing, if required by the Court; and
- Completing any other conditions that the court may deem appropriate.
However, if an individual commits another crime within five years, the records that have been expunged could still be used against them in court.
The program would be adopted across the state by 102 state attorneys, according to a spokesman from Gov. Quinn's office.
Similar programs, such as Adult Redeploy Illinois, are already in place but will expire in December.
Adult Reply started in October 2011 and uses federal money to allow countries to draft their own diversion programs. In the case of Illinois, the state chose to target individuals on probation by providing more conditions for finishing probation but also more assistance - such as both increased drug treatment and drug testing.
The Offender Initiative Program takes its cues from another pilot program the state's attorney launched in Cook County.
The deferred prosecution program has over 500 participants and resulted in 120 cases being dismissed, according to Quinn spokesman Mason.
“The county estimates it has saved about $1.1 million through this program, due to lower court and incarceration costs,” said Mason. “The rehabilitative services offered in the program also make it less likely a person will re-offend, which reduces future costs to the criminal justice system."
Maki applauds the changes, but sounds a note of caution: "It's really important to be tracking it. The one thing we have seen in prison reform is that when good ideas are implemented they are not always measured. We need to know if it works so we can expand it."
Luckily for non-violent offenders looking for a second chance, the success of the deferred prosecution program led to the Offender Initiative Program - and the chance for more first-time offenders to again have a clear record.
Photo credit: PearlyV