Illinois Rep. Stresses Criminal Justice Reform and Re-Entry into Society

By Michael Klazema on 3/20/2016
With the Illinois presidential primary looming, State Representative La Shawn K. Ford held a press conference on Sunday, March 13th, urging the candidates to make criminal justice reform a centerpiece of their campaigns. In particular, Ford, a Democrat who hails from Chicago, stressed the importance of making it possible for criminal offenders to re-enter into society after serving their time.

In a press release distributed prior to the Sunday event, Ford said that "a criminal background in America prevents citizens from living a productive life." His words align with an argument that has been waged about employment equality, criminal histories, and background checks for years. More and more cities, states, and counties throughout the country are responding to the argument by "banning the box" and taking questions about criminal history off job applications. Ford's native Chicago has even gone one step further than most jurisdictions, banning the box for both private and public employers.

Still, Ford believes that there is a long way to go before our country will be able to break the cycle of recidivism. Often, ex-offenders struggle to find jobs due to the stigma against them. Ford's hope is that, someday, this discriminatory treatment will end. "Americans with criminal records should be given a second chance if they have served their time and are fully committed to obeying the laws of the land," he said in his press release. Unfortunately, many convicted criminals carry their misdeeds with them for years after finishing out their sentences. And when ex-offenders can't find jobs to support themselves or their families, they are more likely to fall back into patterns of criminal activity, get arrested once more, and re-enter the prison system. The issue, in other words, leads to overcrowded prisons, violent and dangerous streets, and broken families.

Ford wants the next President of the United States—whoever that is—to focus on making a different kind of re-entry a priority. He wants criminal offenders who have served their time to be given the second chance to re-enter society, get jobs, and climb back up the ladder of the American Dream. With the current presidential candidates carrying wildly different viewpoints on the future of criminal justice reform, the forthcoming election could significantly affect the feasibility of societal re-entry. For instance, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump believes the country needs to be tougher on crime while Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders wants to curb over-incarceration and pursue alternative options.

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