After someone serves their time and pays their debt to society, the government should not swat down their attempts to pursue a productive path. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to one Illinois mother who attempted to become a licensed registered nurse. Her dream was denied due to Illinois’ occupational licensing laws which prohibits those with felony convictions from applying. This is just one of the many ways the government can get in the way of someone’s second chance.

Thankfully, the Illinois Legislature lifted licensing bans for former offenders last session. Right on Crime Director Derek Cohen weighed in on this at the Illinois Policy Institute’s recent event:

“Make it more attractive or less cumbersome for employers to hire ‘folks who are reentering society, (and) do the same thing for landlords,” Cohen said, “stability in housing is a very key predictive factor in recidivism.”

Reducing regulatory barriers that hurt successful reentry is one of numerous ways states can help decrease re-offense rates. According to John Maki of Illinois Criminal Justice Information, history has proven that simply locking someone in a dark room for a period of time almost never results in that person becoming a better member of society. They need to be rehabilitated prior to being released, and then they need access to opportunities to redeem themselves outside of prison. “Human beings can do really remarkable things when they’re allowed to,” Maki said.

Texas has been where Illinois currently stands. Reforms passed in 2007 were due to budget necessity. It was then House Speaker, Tom Craddick, told former House Representative and Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden not to build more prisons because they cost too much. Cohen explained that the reinvestment style reforms allowed Texas to consider, “what are the systemic cost drivers, what are the better predictors of recidivism, (and) how can we minimize the criminogenic effects of prisons.” Today, Texas has officially shuttered eight prisons and saved an estimated $3 billion. Illinois could do the same if it continues down the path of criminal justice reform.

This event was co-hosted by Illinois Policy Institute and American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. IPI vice president of communications Hilary Gowins was the moderator. The panel included IPI senior fellow David Camick, Right on Crime director Derek Cohen, Illinois Criminal Justice Information executive director John Maki, and ACLU of Illinois’ director of criminal justice reform Ben Ruddell.