Illinois Scores Top Rank, Alaska is Lowest
In the last 18 months, states have adopted a more “enlightened” approach to integrating formerly incarcerated individuals in civil society, in areas ranging from the restoration of voting rights to eliminating discrimination in hiring, according to a report by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC).
“But there is still a long way to go before people with a record are treated fairly in getting a job and supporting a family, securing a place to live, and participating fully in civic affairs,” writes CCRC Executive Director Margaret Love, a former U.S. Pardon Attorney, in the beginning to the report.
A companion “report card” ranking all 50 states according to how well they measure up in nine different areas of reentry and reintegration gives Illinois the highest marks and places Alaska at the bottom.
The report, entitled The Many Roads From Reentry to Reintegration, notes that the trend towards a fairer and more understanding treatment of individuals with criminal records has accelerated.
Several new states have joined those previously identified as reform leaders, and half a dozen other states have made “substantial improvements” to existing laws, according to the report.
The survey and report card are the latest in a regular series of evaluations of progress in the nation’s restorative rights laws, produced by CCRC.
Many of the latest improvements were driven by economic necessity, the CCRC said, noting that the pandemic has driven home the concept that communities need to “support, train, and recruit workers who are essential to rebuilding the small businesses that are the lifeblood of healthy communities while supporting themselves and their families.”
To do this, states have broadened the occupational and professional licensing requirements to allow certain criminal records to not impact someone’s ability to further themselves and ensure non-discrimination while hiring.
Many states however are still lagging behind in restoring civil rights, and removing barriers that impede the formerly incarcerated from full participation in society.
“Like criminal sentences themselves, [collateral consequences] should be imposed only when and to the extent necessary, there should be opportunities for case-by-case consideration, and there should be an end to them,” the report notes.
“Otherwise, collateral consequences, designed to promote public safety, risk undermining it.”
The Report Card
Within the Reintegration Report Card ranking, scores were calculated by assigning grades A-1 through F-5 and adding up the nine columns of laws (like voting, pardon relief, employment opportunities, etc.) and then assigning an overall ranking for each state.
Take Alaska, for example, which the report ranks as the lowest-performing state in terms of nearly every law category analyzed — receiving “F” grades for pardoning, felony relief, misdemeanor relief, certificates of relief, employment, and occupational licensing laws.
“Alaska is one of the very few states that has no general law regulating consideration of criminal records by employers or occupational licensing agencies,” Love writes. “Alaska has enacted no laws in recent years in furtherance of reentry or reintegration, and its overall restoration scheme remains one of the two most restrictive in the Nation.
Exactly in the middle of the pack is Missouri, which was ranked as 25/50 for its generally high ratings with an “A” grade for deferred adjudication, and “B” grades for occupational licensing access and pardoning — but poor ratings for every other law variable, garnering an “F” in Certificates of Relief.”
“Missouri rose five places in the rankings this year by virtue of its improved record relief laws and it’s governing pardoning,” Love details, noting that it could rise high by broadening individual eligibility for record clearing and employment.
After ranking highly in all nine areas of reentry and reform, Illinois continues to hold its place at the top of the ranking, specifically because of the fact that Illinois has taken action to address discrimination based on conviction records with its Human Rights Act.
“Illinois has taken several commendable legislative steps to encourage voting awareness by prisoners, but it seems that it would take a constitutional amendment to do away with felony disenfranchisement altogether,” the report details.
With that, like all states, Illinois still has room to improve and could eliminate some of the access to barriers regarding petition-based relief that was identified in last year’s CCRC report card, including giving courts broader authority to defer adjudication of cases eligible for probationary sentencing to avoid conviction.
Washington D.C. is noted in this year’s report card as having skyrocketed from 40th place to 19th place, thanks to enacting comprehensive occupational licensing laws in 2021, complementing its existing strong law regulations of criminal record employment regarding housing.
To that end, the District of Columbia’s laws are “among the least generous in the Nation” due to the fact that there is no relief for felony convictions, and the president has granted only a handful of pardons in D.C. in the past 50 years.
“We hope our grades will challenge, encourage, and inspire additional reforms in the months and years ahead,” the report concludes.
Margaret Colgate Love is a former U.S. Pardon Attorney and current Executive Director of the CCRC. Love represents applicants for executive clemency in her private practice in Washington, D.C. She is also the lead co-author of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction: Law, Policy & Practice, and created and regularly updates the Restoration of Rights Project database.
See Below for the Full Report
Andrea Cipriano is the Associate Editor of The Crime Report