Activist group: Illinois criminal justice system reform must include access to jobs


A pro-jobs agenda must be part of the bipartisan reforms to the criminal justice system, according to a national anti-poverty group.

Eric Mitchell is director of government relations with Bread for the World, and he said some offenders in the criminal justice system are breadwinners for their families, but when they get put behind bars, they can no longer be providers.

Mitchell said more needs to be done to allow former inmates to find good-paying jobs so they can break the cycle of dependence on government assistance.

“If you’re able to strengthen our economy, provide jobs, but also provide jobs that pay well, then the people who will need and rely on programs like food stamps will decrease.”

Mitchell also said the “tough on crime” mentality is backfiring by limiting former inmates’ access to student loans, housing and other opportunities to find stable, quality employment, something cited as increasing recidivism rates.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has worked with Republicans and Democrats throughout Illinois to reform the state’s criminal justice system, including allowing inmates to train for professional licenses before their release so they can find better-quality employment opportunities outside of prison immediately.

Meanwhile, Mitchell said there needs to be a jobs agenda to grow the economy as a way to combat poverty.

“We need to talk about how we want to create jobs here in this country, how do we want to create good-paying jobs, create infrastructure jobs, housing, roads, service providers, all those types of opportunities that allow people to move up.”