The state is taking steps to keep people from returning to prison upon their release.
The Summit of Hope is an annual event to help those who have spent time behind bars ease back into the community.
“We all make mistakes but, you know, a lot of people say it’s hard to find a job. It’s not,” says Terry Buchanan. Buchanan has been a free man for a few years and says he’s one of the lucky ones who found a job after being released from prison.
“It’s a good program, but we need to help ourselves if you want to get somewhere,” he says.
For others, like Maurice Reynolds, say it’s not that easy.
“Because, as a felon, when we put in applications and go places, it seems like you’re not really getting any help,” Reynolds says.
Reynolds believes events like the Summit of Hope gives people hope they can stay out of prison and return to their communities.
“There are some of the transitional things I saw when I was in prison and it helped me, when I was there to see they’re doing it here. I know it will help,” he says.
One of Governor Bruce Rauner’s goals is to reduce the prison population by 25% by 2025. Rauner says jobs are crucial to preventing people from repeating offenses.
“Every person deserves a second chance at life. Everyone deserves a chance of building their lives and be productive citizens and enjoy the fruits of America,” Rauner said.
Steps have been taken, by lawmakers, to pass legislation allowing ex-offenders to get licenses in a handful of occupations.
Currently, the state does not allow former criminals to apply for specific jobs.
“We have a high percentage of people who are convicted of crimes that aren’t, that are non-violent, so we can get people just employed and educated,” Rauner added.
There are other licensing bills for different professions to help former criminals enter the workforce, but they still need the governor’s signature.