While Illinois has expanded the number of felony records that citizens can have sealed, there is still much work to be done for juveniles and young adults to be able to have a clean slate, activists said Thursday.
“Those criminal records haunt people for a lifetime,” explained Anthony Lowery from Chicago’s Safer Foundation. “People don’t realize that a drug conviction at 18 can mean not being able to get a job, even 20 or 30 years later.
“In my life, I’ve been blessed to be able to do a lot of things. I’ve even worked with Barack Obama before he was president,” Lowery said. “Still, when I go in for a job, the first thing people see is still a 20-year-old drug conviction. We need more ways for people, especially kids, to escape the stigma of having a conviction.”
“These children are much more than the things that they have done,” Biehl said. “People forget that.”
When asked what else could be done differently, Illinois Balanced and Restorative Justice executive director Sara Balgoyen explained the answers are in understanding.
“Instead of slapping offenders with lifelong criminal records, we could use restorative practices to build relationships with them,” Baloyen said. “If offenders truly understand how they negatively impacted a victim or their community, it helps them not to do those things again. “
Father David Kelly from Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation summarized it well when he said, “We have a system now where kids feel like outsiders in their own communities. Incarceration furthers that alienation. We need to reach out and make everyone, even people who made mistakes, feel welcome in our communities.”