Law helps level playing field for ex-cons

By Matt Porter |

Published 07/21 2014 10:15PM

Updated 07/22 2014 10:12AM

ILLINOIS -- People with criminal records will now have a better chance at getting jobs due to a new law. Governor Patrick Quinn (D) signed a law requiring private employers and employment agencies to provide "qualified applicants" with an interview before running a criminal background check. The law excludes jobs where employers are required to refuse employment based on criminal histories.

Catheuss McKay leads young adults many would consider at risk as part of a program out of the Springfield Urban League. He said all of his students deal with the stigma of their past mistakes.

"100 percent of the men and women I deal with coming through the streets all have a criminal background,” McKay said. “Whether it's just petty theft or it’s murder."

He helps his students transition from the street to the professional world, but their records are something he can’t help with.

"The majority of young men and women I'm working with all want a chance. They want a job,” McKay said. “But due to the fact of their background, they're shunned."

One of his students, who asked not to be named, said he’s encountered the stigma firsthand.

“It's hard to find a job whenever you have a criminal record prior because the manager or the owner of the restaurant doesn’t want to let a criminal in there," the student said.

Now a new law could force companies to at least meet these unwanted candidates who say they are ready to work. McKay’s student said he already knows what he would tell an employer in an interview about his credibility.

“If you work with me, you'll develop the trust, a trusting relationship, and you'll understand I'm not the person I was back in the day,” he said.

Dave Blanchette, spokesperson for the governor, said the goal of the new law signed by Quinn is to help get applicants in the door of local businesses.

"This forces the employer to actually look at the person,” Blanchette said. “The person's qualifications and their skills and suitability for the job before their past history is taken into account."

McKay, who mentors more than a dozen young adults, said there are few choices for his students if it weren’t for businesses willing to hire.

"They will be on the streets and they'll be doing things society say they’re wrong for,” McKay said. “But society doesn't understand, you're not giving them a chance."

The Illinois Department of Labor will oversee complaints and enforcement of the new law.

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