Mayor Lightfoot: Chicago could be a 'second chance' city for ex-lawbreakers

Throughout my life and career, as the sister of incarcerated individuals, federal prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, police reform expert, and now as mayor, one of the many truths I've learned about public safety is that if we continue to ignore the problems at hand . by citizens coming home from prison, we will never achieve lasting peace.

Over the last decade, more than 100,000 people returned from the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Cook County Jail back to the Chicago neighborhood. Many of these people lack the tools to help them reintegrate into communities, and return to the same state of affairs — now with a conviction record, which poses a new set of barriers to building a prosperous life and accessing basic needs such as housing, health care and work.

If we continue to ignore or create more of these barriers to returning residents, we will sow the seeds of our own dysfunction and ongoing loss. To put it bluntly: If we deny returnees access to a legitimate economy, we will perpetuate a cycle that keeps them in poverty and leads to increased risk of contact with the criminal justice system.

It is very important for us to enhance community safety and anti-poverty strategies by increasing outcomes for these residents. Together, we must do better for the thousands of people returning from detention, many of them black and Latino, who have paid their debt to society.

This work is very personal to me. One of my brothers spent most of his adult life in and out of prison, including 17 years in federal prison. Now, a man of nearly 67 years of age, he faces obstacles every day because of his past.

My brother's challenges are reflected daily in the lives of thousands of other people in this city who share his experiences. We have a moral imperative to help these people, who, like us, are simply seeking opportunities for a life of safety and well-being.

Roadmap for more opportunities

To address this challenge, two years ago I formed a working group of people with first-hand experience in the criminal justice system — advocates, social service staff, community organizers, and researchers — to determine how municipalities can support our returning residents. , their families and our communities who bear the brunt of failed re-entry systems.

Thanks to their work, my administration gains a better understanding of the unique challenges facing our residents who return and create a “Road Map for Second Chance Cities” to guide the municipal government in dealing with them.

We began implementing this roadmap with the 2022 budget, which allocated $13 million for reinstatement services, including legal assistance, workforce development, the creation of the Interagency Council and the hiring of Chicago's first reentry director, Willette Benford.

Our administration, partnering with other levels of government and community advocates, is taking action to strengthen policies and programs for equitable recruitment of returning residents.

Just this year, I joined the Department of Human Resources to announce a reform, a national background check policy that ensures returnees are fair and transparent opportunities to access the city's roughly 2,500 annual government jobs open.

Subsequently, the Department of Families and Support Services launched a request-for-proposal for a $6.6 million new job and housing navigation support program for returning residents.

We collaborated with Ald. Walter Burnett and other sponsors of the legislation, passed this month, advance anti-discrimination protections in employment and other expanded economic opportunities.

And finally, in an effort to make these resources and opportunities widely known, we have created a new central hub on the city's website for information regarding support services:

When my brother finished serving his term, I know how many times he felt alone as door after door closed in his face. The same goes for the thousands of former incarcerated individuals who return to Chicago and their families each year.

Through workgroups, our reports, and other reentry efforts, I hope we have created an environment where people like my brother can feel they have the support they need to fulfill their God-given potential and not be defined by mistakes for the rest. their life.

I hope our city will continue to strive to support returning residents as they rejoin our community. An investment in their future is an investment in the future of our city. When they have the opportunity to succeed, they enrich our communities and our entire economy.

This April, Second Chance Month, is when Chicago becomes a true second chance city.

Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot was elected in 2019.

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