SAFER Communities Act for Illinois
In 2021, Illinois House Judiciary Chair Justin Slaughter introduced the SAFER Communities Act, in partnership with the Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ). This grassroots policy proposal would promote job access for formerly incarcerated Illinoisans, improve public safety in our communities, and deliver economic relief for thousands of local businesses impacted by the pandemic.
The SAFER Communities Act would establish a living wage job creation program for up to 16,000 formerly incarcerated workers. This five year pilot program would offer local businesses wage subsidies of up to $15,000 annually for employing workers with conviction records into newly created, high-quality jobs. The bill would also deliver economic assistance to small businesses that hire formerly incarcerated workers to cover the cost of on-the-job training.
With the support of over 30 endorsing organizations, the SAFER Communities Act was passed by the Illinois House Judiciary Committee in the spring session of 2021. Since that time, the Workers Center for Racial Justice has gathered input from lawmakers, state departments, local business owners, and formerly incarcerated community leaders across the state. This feedback has informed HB 3215 Amendment 3. This proposed amendment removes the sentencing reforms that appear in the original bill and strengthens key elements of the jobs creation program.
Economic opportunity for formerly incarcerated Illinoisans
The unemployment level among people with conviction records is nearly five times the overall national rate. In Illinois, more than half of all job seekers returning from incarceration are unable to obtain stable employment within eight months of release. Those who do secure work earn significantly lower wages.
Even as Illinois adopts new laws to remove discrimination barriers for formerly incarcerated job applicants, inconsistent enforcement of those policies perpetuate disproportionately low employment and rates.
By investing in high quality, living wage employment for formerly incarcerated job seekers, the SAFER Communities Act would promote economic opportunity and narrow the earnings gap currently impacting tens of thousands Illinoisans with conviction records.
Improved public safety for communities across Illinois
Without equitable access to employment, 43% of all returning Illinoisans will be reincarcerated within three years. The rate of prison returns is correlated with both unemployment and lower wage work. This cycle undermines the safety and long-term economic stability of reentering individuals, as well as their families and communities. Illinois' high rate of recidivism is projected to cost the state $13 billion over the next five years.
By investing in high quality employment opportunities for returning Illinoisans, the SAFER Communities Act would significantly reduce rates of reincarceration. When people returning from prison become stably employed, their recidivism rates drop by 62%.
By supporting access to employment for 16,000 formerly incarcerated Illinoisans, HB 3215 would save Illinoisans more than $200 million annually in reincarceration costs alone. Returning workers would also significantly increase state revenue through sales and income tax contributions.
In the summer of 2021, the Biden administration issued guidance on state level crime prevention policy, which included investment in jobs creation for formerly incarcerated residents.
Equitable economic recovery for local businesses
Public investment in wage subsidies and grants for small businesses would offer crucial relief to the thousands of employers experiencing long term economic challenges stemming from the COVID pandemic.
As of March 2021, small business revenue in Illinois had plummeted by 39.5% compared to January 2020. The economic crisis has had a disproportionately adverse impact on Black and Latinx owned businesses. The SAFER Communities Act would play an important role in the economic recovery of Illinois businesses.
In January 2022, the Biden Administration released an updated directive on ARP funding through the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This most recent guidance identifies job creation for formerly incarcerated individuals as a key component to economic recovery.
WCRJ thanks the following groups for endorsing the SAFER Communities Act
ACLU of Illinois | Arise Chicago | Black Remembrance Project | TheBlackMall.com | Brighton Park Neighborhood Council | Centro Trabajadores Unidos | Community Renewal Society | Cafe 75 | Enlace | Giving Others Dreams | Indivisible Illinois | Illinois NOW | J & J Solutions | Jewish Council on Urban Affairs | LA Law Firm | Live Free Illinois | Mano a Mano Family Resource Center | Mothers Against Wrongful Convictions | The People's Lobby | People's Response Network | Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project | Raise the Floor Alliance | Southland Black Chamber of Commerce | Shriver Center on Poverty Law | United African Organization | Unitarian Universalist Advocacy Network of Illinois | Uptown People's Law Center