Recidivism refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, and although our job as criminal lawyers is to defend our client at trial, the goal of the entire justice system is to prevent recidivism. The goal of our justice system is to punish a wrongful action to such an extent that the perpetrator understands why their actions were wrong and how they can avoid ending up in a similar situation.
There are a number of ways to reduce recidivism rates, because there is no one-size-fits all approach to preventing a relapse of criminal behavior. For some, behavior modification, positive reinforcement and ongoing support/therapy are great ways to reduce recidivism rates, but Illinois has recently approached the topic through a different avenue – employment.
A lot of crimes, especially juvenile crimes, occur because of two many reasons:
- Opportunity (aka free time).
- Desire for something without means to attain it.
For example, a lot of shoplifting crimes occur because people don’t have enough money or the desire to spend their money on a certain item, while a lot of juvenile crimes like underage drinking, vandalism and disturbing the peace occur because teens “have nothing better to do.” Having a job takes care of both of those points, and recent studies suggest employment can help reduce recidivism rates.
Illinois and Criminal Employment
It may seem obvious that getting a job after spending time in jail can help prevent a relapse, but securing a job with a criminal record is easier said than done. According to a recent study, as many as 75 percent of former offenders are unemployed a year after their release. Illinois has recently taken steps to help curb this high number.
Earlier this month the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation announced that ex-offenders who have completed training in certain trades while incarcerated will be able to apply for a work license prior to their release from prison. Under the old law, offenders couldn’t apply until they got out of prison, and the licensure process sometimes takes months, meaning ex-offenders were often left in limbo, unable to provide for themselves until their certification cleared. With the change now in effect, offenders can earn their license in barbering or cosmetology while finishing their sentence and be licensed by the time they are released.
“We need to provide for our families as soon as we get out there …” said Megan Royer, who is set to apply for her cosmetology license six months before she is released from jail. “Being able to go out into society and have that license on hand, we are able to just start applying for jobs in the field. It’s a great thing for them to do.”
But helping offenders get licenses earlier isn’t the only time Illinois is doing to reduce recidivism. The Illinois General Assembly is currently considering legislation that would prohibit the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation from denying an application for an occupational license based on criminal offenses that are unrelated to the profession in question. The goal of the bill is to prevent an offender from being denied the right to work because of a crime for which they already have received punishment and that has no relation to the career they are pursuing.