Cook County, Illinois – Today, a resolution brought forth by Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, was unanimously passed by the Cook County Board. The resolution, designating April as Second Chance Month in Cook County, discusses the challenges associated with reentry and the impact of providing support and opportunities to residents returning home from incarceration.
“When the lead sponsor, Congressman Danny K. Davis of the 7th Congressional District, started the Second Chance Act passage process, I was delighted to work by his side,” said Cook County Commissioner, Dennis Deer. “It was not popular to give people second chances, but in the words of Muhammad Ali, the service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. Because of service, we stand today declaring April as Second Chance Month in Cook County. While every day is a day of second chances, we will highlight April as a month with special activities around second chances for years to come.”
President Preckwinkle, along with 14 Cook County Commissioners and the Cook County Justice Advisory Council (JAC), co-sponsored the resolution, committing to sustain and deepen efforts to collaboratively address the needs of formerly incarcerated residents in Cook County.
“We are a nation and a County of second chances, and we are committed to providing formerly incarcerated residents the support they deserve,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “After completing sentences of years or decades behind bars, we say returning residents have paid their debt to society; yet they are burdened with barriers that act as permanent punishments. It is critical that we join together to address these barriers and provide the opportunities and support that help our returning residents to successfully transition home and achieve their goals. Providing real second chances helps build the safe and thriving communities that all residents deserve.”
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 565 people incarcerated per 100,000 residents. Almost 2 million people are incarcerated in prisons and jails nationwide with 76,000 people currently incarcerated in Illinois. Every year, nearly 24,000 people are released from Illinois prisons. Nationwide, almost 5 million residents were formally incarcerated in state or federal prisons and at least 79 million people have a criminal record.
Formally incarcerated individuals face barriers to employment and access to fair housing. They experience higher rates of housing and food insecurity, mental and physical health issues and substance abuse disorders. Addressing legal barriers to employment and connecting returning residents to housing and employment opportunities, as well as other individualized supports, has been shown to reduce recidivism and improve long term outcomes for the formerly incarcerated.
“People who were formally incarcerated play a critical role in their families and communities, and have become entrepreneurs, mentors, leaders and change-makers working to break cycles of crime, violence and incarceration,” said Avik Das, Executive Director of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council. “As we work to develop policies and programs focused on reentry, we are leveraging evidence informed strategies as well as the invaluable insight of residents with lived experience in the justice system who have returned home to Cook County and are deeply invested in the health and safety of their communities.”
In recent years, Cook County has led and partnered in many initiatives aimed at assisting returning residents to successfully reintegrate into their communities. These included the passing of the Just Housing Ordinance, focused on increasing access to safe, stable and affordable housing for residents with criminal records; the Road Home Program led by the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, a comprehensive employment and reentry support program; and the Housing Authority of Cook County’s voucher program for individuals going through the specialized Drug Court program. Additional initiatives are under development and a designated Reentry Services team under the Cook County Justice Advisory Council is forthcoming.
Cook County joins the White House, the US Department of Justice, State and City leaders and a growing number of research institutions and advocacy organizations in formally recognizing Second Chance Month.