Ex-Offender Re-entry Initiatives

About the Program

Following national trends, Illinois has seen its prison population soar in the last 35 years. In the last 30 years, the Illinois prison population has increased by more than 500 percent. Meanwhile, Illinois has seen its prison exits rise as well. The number of people released from Illinois state prisons from 2000 to 2003 has jumped from 28,876 to 35,372—an increase of more than 22 percent. Over 50 percent of prisoners released from all Illinois prisons in 2006 returned to the City of Chicago alone. The issue of prisoner reentry has taken on new urgency in recent years, as tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals have returned to our city seeking a fresh start. Chicago is one of the few cities to focus on the challenges of prisoner reentry in such a thorough and comprehensive manner. Below you can find information on the current programming and resources targeted to providing services to individuals with a criminal background who have served their sentence and need a second chance.

Message from the Mayor

The issue of prisoner reentry has taken on new urgency in recent years, as tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals have returned to our city seeking a fresh start. For too long, the challenges facing these individuals were largely ignored.

The dimensions of the problem are clear. This year alone, more than 21,000 people will return to Chicago after their release from prison. Many will return to their same neighborhoods, often jobless, without a place to live and lacking the basic skills they need. Few receive any help in turning their lives around. We need to promote and develop concrete, pragmatic measures that will address the challenges they face every day.

When we talk about lending a hand to these individuals, we do so always with the understanding that some have committed serious crimes. Their problems often are not high on most lists of priorities. And there are certainly citizens who believe that these former criminals do not deserve our attention or concern.

But the approach we have been taking has not worked. If we expect the 14-year drop in our city’s crime rate to continue, if we expect to keep our city strong and growing, we must make a renewed commitment to successfully reintegrate the formerly incarcerated into our communities.

These individuals have paid their debt to society and are looking forward to contributing to their families and neighborhoods as law-abiding, hard-working, tax-paying citizens. They are entitled to be treated fairly in issues of employment, education, health care, housing and all other areas of daily life, and we should not hesitate to make sure that they have the necessary tools to succeed.

The fact is that when people with criminal records succeed, we all succeed. Our families, our neighborhoods and our city’s economy all benefit when formerly incarcerated individuals achieve their independence and lead healthy, responsible, crime-free lives. With more and more men and women coming to our city after their release from the criminal justice system, we must all do a better job at recognizing their special challenges. These programs are a critical first step in that process.

City of Chicago Hiring Guidelines

The Chicago Department of Human Resources has promulgated new guidelines for reviewing criminal convictions—a direct recommendation of the Caucus. Pursuant to the City’s commitment to help people with criminal convictions safely reenter the workforce, the City reviews criminal conviction information on a case-by-case basis. This ensures that individuals who have been convicted of criminal activity are placed into and/or occupy City positions that are suitable and appropriate for the individual and do not place undue risk upon the City. The fact that an applicant has a criminal conviction history, standing alone, does not automatically disqualify the applicant. The City has been monitoring the implementation of these guidelines since they went into effect, and will continue to refine them as necessary. The following parameters are taken into consideration as part of the case-by-case review:

Nature of specific offense(s) for which the candidate was convicted; Nature of sentencing; Number of convictions; Length of time that has passed since the conviction(s); Relationship between the criminal act(s) for which the candidate was convicted and the nature of the work for which the individual is being considered; Age of the candidate at the time of the conviction; Evidence of rehabilitation (i.e. whether candidate has completed a treatment or counseling program or received a certification of relief from disabilities or good conduct); Extent to which the individual has been open, honest and cooperative with the City in examining his or her background; and Any other information relevant to the candidate’s suitability.

It is important to note that these guidelines will give people with criminal records a fair shot, though not a leg up at landing a job with the City.

For more information, please feel free to explore current job opportunities at www.cityofchicago.org/careerworks

Department and Sister Agency Programs:

Department of Transportation - Greencorps Chicago 

Greencorps Chicago offers a nine-month training program in landscaping and horticulture, environmental health and safety, electronics recycling, and weatherization. Professional development and academic enhancement are integrated into all aspects of training. We accept and hire approximately 50 people each season.

Green Industry Job Training

Department of Fleet & Facility Management - Automotive Repair

Mayor Daley introduced an ordinance in 2004 to allow the Chicago Department of Fleet Management to partner with a job-training program on the city’s south side to help individuals with criminal records gain paid work experience as auto mechanics repairing City vehicles. The Chicagoland Youth and Adult Training Center (CYATC), currently housed at Kennedy-King College, is a not-for-profit agency that provides intensive vocational automotive classes to at-risk young people, including those with past criminal convictions, as well as supportive services, drug screening and life-skills training. Students can receive a GED certificate, if needed, as well as 20 hours of community college credit. By the time they graduate, students have 40 percent of the skills necessary to be a master mechanic. Through this new partnership with Fleet, CYATC’s graduates have the opportunity to do preventative maintenance on non-public safety light-duty City vehicles. This paid work enables these individuals to establish a foundation for continued employment at private auto body shops. One year into the collaboration, Fleet has already sent 1,502 vehicles and has expanded the types of vehicles sent to CYATC for preventive maintenance from cars and SUVs to include pick-up trucks, vans and diesel powered vehicles. This City contract has also laid the foundation for a similar potential arrangement with the State.

For more information, please contact: Eileen Joyce, 312.744.0961 or eileenjoyce@cityofchicago.org

Department of Finance—Call Center Operations and Debt Collection

On May 24, 2006, Mayor Daley introduced an ordinance to allow the Chicago Department of Revenue to partner with a collection agency to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with gainful employment.

Specifically, the ordinance allows the Department of Revenue to refer some of the city’s outstanding debt to Collectors Training Institute (CTI), a licensed, bonded, minority-owned, collection agency located on the city’s west side. CTI has partnered with the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN), a not-for-profit agency that provides formerly incarcerated individuals with employment services and case management to help them find and secure good job opportunities. Participants will gain marketable work experience and assist the City of Chicago in reducing outstanding debt and lower collection costs. NLEN will perform all of the recruiting, pre-screening, drug-testing and case management functions of prospective employees. CTI will train and employ those individuals to collect accounts provided by the City of Chicago. The Department of Revenue will have the discretion to further screen personnel and may choose what information is available to collectors. Security measures include encrypting the data. This ordinance passed out of subcommittee on June 14, 2006 and was approved by the City Council on June 28, 2006. The Department of Revenue is currently working to develop the contract terms.

Department of Streets and Sanitation - Neighborhood Beautification and Recycling

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation began assisting a job placement organization in 2005 to launch a pilot street-cleaning, recycling and neighborhood beautification business in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood. The creation of Cleanslate was inspired in part by The Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able Program, the first residential paid work and training program for homeless people in New York City. Cleanslate provides on-the-job training and transitional support services for participants who face substantial obstacles to employment, including criminal histories and recent incarceration. Interns help to keep sidewalks, parkways, public gardens and vacant lots clean while instilling renewed pride in communities. Interns also educate neighborhood residents and local business owners on the importance of recycling. Cleanslate provides high-end professional services that strategically complement the City’s services. In the first six months of operation, 14 interns had been placed in permanent jobs with benefits in the private sector. With the City’s continued assistance, Cleanslate expanded operations in 2006, adding three more work crews in the Quad Communities, the Illinois Medical District and most recently in Uptown. 

For more information, please contact: Cleanslate, 773.858.7611, info@cleanslate.org

Department of Family & Support Services Programs

Customized Work Services Program

The Customized Work Services Program combines elements of a transitional jobs program with various City of Chicago work services projects. Transitional jobs are temporary jobs that combine real work activities, skill development and supportive services to help participants overcome substantial barriers to employment. Transitional jobs help persons with criminal records break negative life patterns and engage in positive steps to re-entering the community as responsible, productive citizens. By attaching ex-offenders to real work activities, the chances of recidivism are significantly reduced. The Customized Work Services Program uses City of Chicago work services projects as the real work experience opportunities for program participants. Participants will be trained in one or more of the following work services projects:

  • Grounds Maintenance, Snow Removal, and De-icing of City Properties
  • Small Engine Repairs
  • Fire Hydrant Painting
  • Grounds Maintenance and Tree Pit Maintenance

Individuals participating in the program are paid $7.50 per hour. Through a regimen of case management, basic job readiness training and paid work, participants are expected to acclimate to work routines and generate references necessary for finding unsubsidized jobs outside of the city workforce. 

Social Enterprise Ventures Program 

The Department of Family & Support Services (FSS) committed $525,000 to a new “Social Enterprise Ventures (SEV) Program”. This program is vastly different from other more traditional education, employment and training models. A social enterprise is a revenue-generating venture that provides a nonprofit with unrestricted funds and enhances the organization’s core mission. Earned income from these ventures build and sustain real jobs while providing wages, career tracks and supportive services for people who have substantial barriers to employment. By cultivating a social enterprise, nonprofits are able to expand their portfolio of workforce development strategies for formerly incarcerated men and women. As such, this program offers an opportunity for people with criminal records to gain real work experience in a real business environment with standard practices and procedures sensitive to their individual needs and personal circumstances.

Three agencies were selected from a competitive process. Each demonstrated innovative business ideas with potential for market growth. The three industries targeted are (1) Custodial Maintenance;(2) Urban Agriculture and Organic Farming; and (3) Staffing Services. The agencies will receive technical assistance from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business’ faculty and students as well as other experts in the field.

Transitional Jobs Program

The Department of Family & Support Services launched a pilot “Transitional Jobs (TJ) Program” in 2004 specially targeted to help formerly incarcerated individuals find jobs in a variety of industries, such as hospitality and warehousing. This unique program provides rapid attachment to the workforce for men and women with felony backgrounds using time-limited, publicly-subsidized jobs that combine real work, skill development and supportive services. Through a regimen of immediate paid work experience coupled with case management, job readiness and basic training, individuals can learn the customs and routines of work, gain valuable skills, establish a work record and generate references to obtain steady, unsubsidized jobs. Such a model helps the participants to overcome substantial barriers to employment. Back in 2004, two agencies were selected from a competitive process. Building off the strong support for transitional jobs as set forth by a direct recommendation of the Caucus, MOWD doubled its funding for the TJ Program in 2006, adding another two delegate agencies and thereby increasing the City’s current annual investment in transitional jobs to $800,000. 

For more information, please contact the  Department of Family & Support Services at 312.743.0300.

Mayoral Policy Caucus Report
In May 2004, Mayor Richard M. Daley Convened the Mayoral Policy Caucus on Prisoner Reentry. Serving in an advisory capacity, the Caucus included leaders from government, business, civic associations, community and faith organization, foundations, universities, social service agencies, advocacy groups as well as formerly incarcerated individuals and their relatives. Their charge was to recommend reforms and innovations to facilitate successful reentry into society for Chicagoans recently released from prison or jail.


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