My brother went to prison when he was 18 and served nearly a decade. Before his release, my brother was expected to attend life skills development classes, but the content of the curriculum does not adequately prepare inmates for the realities and hurdles they will face once released.
Making matters worse, programming partners that inmates are referred to by Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) often lack comprehensive service funding, culturally competent staff, quality customer service, or proper system navigation support.
Currently, my brother is unemployed, after all those great employability, life skills classes, resume workshops, 1:1 meetings with WIOA career coaches, and thousands of paper handouts. He has been terminated from at least six jobs due to his incarcerated history. He was recently let go by his employer of nearly two months because he did not pass a background check. On the verge of a mental breakdown, he asked me, “What am I supposed to do, when I don’t want to do wrong, but there’s a lock on the right door?”
Decision-makers are not in tune with the harsh realities that recently released people experience. I shared this new concept with my brother and a few other recently released individuals and they quickly provided a list of recommended changes with tangible solutions. They highlighted and exposed so many fixable dilemmas within correctional facilities and the pre-release process. Essentially, they are the subject matter experts, so why not invite them to have a seat at the table?
ICJIA works to ensure the criminal justice system in Illinois is efficient, effective, and equitable, yet they lack the perspectives of those who have actually gone through the system and continue to deal with the backlash of the system. HB1119 would amend the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Act to require three of its members to have lived experience in the criminal justice system and three members of the general public, instead of the current six members of the general public.
I worked with my colleagues through Young Invincibles’ Young Advocates Program last fall to develop this policy proposal because there is nothing restorative about our justice system, and this needs to change. I urge Illinois electeds to vote “yes” on HB 1119.
CeCe Kilgore is an alumnus of the Young Advocates Fall 2022 cohort and is currently the IL representative on the National Youth Advisory Board