Public Safety Watchdog Says Illinois Corrections System Needs to Fix Background Check Policies

By Michael Klazema on 11/5/2015
The Illinois Department of Corrections needs to review and revamp its employee background check policies. At least, that's what the John Howard Association, a public safety watchdog organization, has said. According to a recent article published by the Associated Press, the John Howard Association released a report on Thursday, October 29th, stating that state corrections facilities aren't able to fill job vacancies quickly, due to a problematic background check and overall hiring system.

Per their website, the John Howard Association (also known as the Howard Association of Illinois), "works to achieve a fair, humane, and cost-effective criminal justice system by promoting adult and juvenile prison reform." The group's goal is to ensure that inmates are able to successfully reintegrate back into society after serving their time.

According to the Associated Press piece, the Howard Association decided to compile the report after visiting various prison facilities earlier this year. Understaffing was a common and chronic problem at these facilities, and it quickly became apparent that the hiring process was a big part of the reason.

"Nobody could explain the hiring process to us from start to finish," the Howard Association's director said. The system, it seems, is needlessly complicated in a way that could be driving applicants away.

It does seem that the state's heart was in the right place when the screening requirements were put in place for corrections department jobs. In-depth background checks, interviews, tests, and reviews are all a part of the vetting process.

The problem, though, is that all of those steps just take too long. To thoroughly screen employees, run their background checks, and select applicants for hire, it takes the Illinois Department of Corrections months. For instance, at numerous youth prisons throughout the state, AP says it takes an average of six to eight months to fill vacant teacher jobs. The John Howard Association worries that those long, long wait times are causing applicants to lose interest in jobs with corrections facilities, particularly any applicants who are truly qualified for the work at hand.

So what needs to happen? Quite simply, the Department of Corrections needs to look at its hiring process and trim the fat. Interviews, tests, background checks, and reviews are all well and good, but they also all take time and lead to a significant amount of paperwork. A simplified system might choose the most promising applications, interview and test applicants simultaneously, and only subject final candidates to background checks. Losing the background checks or the psychological assessments is not an option, but molding everything into a smarter, more compact process could still help to trim months off the wait time.

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