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Education For People With A Criminal Record In The US

A criminal record, or RAP sheet (Record of Arrests and Prosecutions), is documentation of your history with criminal justice agencies at the state and federal levels. A state criminal record contains information on your arrests, indictments, convictions, and incarcerations for committing an offense within that state. 

State criminal records are publicly available through the state police or the state Department of Public Safety. On the other hand, a federal criminal record shows your criminal history across several states in the US. The Federal Bureau of Investigation maintains this criminal record, which is available to interested persons under the Freedom of Information Act. Thus, the public, prospective employers, and educational institutions can obtain your criminal history per government regulations.   

Although the public availability of criminal records serves to protect the public, it has consequences for the individuals with such records. Generally, offenders face barriers to jobs, housing, and other socio-economic opportunities after completing their sentence. And for persons who wish to get an education after a stint in prison, the same barriers exist because private and public institutions regularly perform criminal background checks on prospective applicants. 

Legislations Fail To Address Criminal Records And Education

Recognizing the barriers that having a criminal record poses, state and federal governments enact legislation that prevents employers from discriminating against individuals with criminal records. 

Legislations like the Fair Chance Act at the Federal level, aka Ban the Box at the state level, reduce employers’ accessibility to a person’s criminal records until later in the job application process. 

An employer cannot ask for a person’s criminal records unless they have made a conditional offer of employment. The same applies to housing. But there are debates on the effectiveness of Ban the Box legislation, especially regarding persons of color with criminal records.  

Regardless of demographic, however, there is radio silence in educational institutions’ use and access to an applicant’s criminal history information. 

Roughly 60 – 80% of education institutions require disclosure of prior convictions by all college applicants. Also, about 5% of all schools go further by requiring applicants to tick the “criminal history” box and go through criminal history screenings for specific degree programs.

  • 25% of colleges automatically close their doors to violent and sexual offenders 
  • 75% view convictions on alcohol and drug offenses as serious and reject applicants with prior felony convictions. 
  • Schools are more likely to reject applicants who are under community supervision for more than five years. 

According to reviews of college admission policies for ex-offenders, there is a shortage of empirical evidence that having a criminal record increases on-campus crimes. Yet, the practices employed by educational institutions suggest they generally agree a background check on former offenders improves campus safety. 

The federal government does not help matters either.

Deciding admission for a former offender has primarily remained the prerogative of the college or university. There are no formal nor legal restrictions governing how colleges use an applicant’s disclosed criminal records to make admissions decisions. Most schools decide on a case-by-case basis. Many schools require recommendation letters from the applicant’s probation officer, among other requirements.

These barriers have made it challenging to earn a degree. Given the obstacles to education outside the correctional system, most offenders tend to get an education while in prison. Until recently, federal laws also limited inmates’ eligibility to access federal student loans to study while behind bars. Congress reinstated inmates’ access to the Federal Pell Grant in December 2020. 

However, the quality and equitable access to college-in-prison programs remain controversial. Outside prison, accessing student loans remains the least of an applicant’s problems. After all, what good is the loan if the individual cannot get admission in the first place? 

Expunging Criminal Records Improves Your Chance To Get An Education

The inequalities between the public and former offenders begin early and accumulate at each level of education, according to a Prison Policy Initiative study. However, a court-ordered sealing or expungement can help you close this gap if you are eligible. 

An expungement removes arrests and convictions from a person’s criminal record entirely – as if they never happened. Sealing prevents most persons from accessing your criminal records without authorization from the court. 

Generally, there is no federal expungement statute, and federal courts have no inherent authority to expunge records of persons convicted of federal crimes. Thus states make their own laws on the expungement and sealing of criminal records.  

However, the offenses must qualify for expungement. Generally, expungement is possible if the offender was a juvenile at the time of arrest and conviction. Adults with misdemeanor convictions can petition the courts for an expungement. Expunging or sealing records of felony convictions is not generally possible. These include murder, arson, rape, and drug crimes involving scheduled substances. There are also waiting periods, statutes of limitation, and requirements that apply to requesting a court-ordered seal or expungement. You will need to consult a criminal defense attorney to examine how this applies to your case.

Going To College Despite A Criminal Record 

People without a criminal record have a 1 in 3 chance of getting a college degree, according to the Prison Policy Initiative research. The odds are not in favor of formerly incarcerated persons who have less than a 1 in 20 chance of getting a college degree. 

If you wish to get an education after a prison sentence, your best chance is to consult a criminal defense attorney to check your eligibility for expungement per state laws. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may research your state’s laws on expungement and complete the process on your own. 

Meanwhile, the US Department of Education also provides resources for persons who wish to get advanced education after prison. You can also check this guide to getting a job and education after prison by experts at Student Trainings & Education in Public Service (STEPS).  

How To Find A Prisoner In Illinois

A prisoner is an offender who has committed a crime, convicted after a fair trial, and remanded in a correctional facility for a specified period. Also known as inmates, prisoners spend time in county jails, state or federal prisons depending on the severity of their crimes. The local Sheriff’s department, the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons are responsible for the custody of these prisoners during their incarceration in Illinois.

Finding Offenders in State Prisons

The Illinois Department of Corrections operates nearly 30 correctional facilities in the state. Interested persons may find information about persons incarcerated in these facilities online, in-person, and via mail requests. The choice depends on convenience and which method provides the information sought.

  1. Online search

Because correctional facilities are located across the state, online search is the most convenient way to access inmate information. It is also the cheapest since it costs nothing, and the searcher only needs a phone/computer with active internet access. To find inmate information online:

  • Visit the inmate search portal.
  • Enter the search parameter you know, i.e., name, offender unique number, or birth date.
  • Click the find button.

If you use the inmate’s name as a search parameter, the database will return a list of inmates bearing the same name across various correctional facilities in the state. The search will then need to sort through the search result for the prisoner of interest. However, searching with offender numbers and birth date helps to narrow down the search results. After all, the offender number is unique to each inmate, and it is rare for two inmates bearing the same name to share a birthdate.

  1. In-persons and mail requests

Using the state prison directory, identify the address and contact information of the prison where the person of interest is serving time. Then, you may call the prison administrator to schedule a visit for your public inmate records request. Conversely, you may write a letter to the Illinois Department of Corrections requesting inmate records. The letter must state the prisoner’s full name and additional information such as conviction date, age, and relevant demographic data. These help prison staff identify the inmate and retrieve the records of interest. Send mail requests in a self-addressed stamped envelope to:

Illinois Department of Corrections

1301 Concordia Court

P.O. Box 19277

Springfield, IL 62794-9277

Chicago

Phone: (217) 558-2200 x 2008

Sending an email is the least efficient way to contact the Department of Corrections due to the volume of emails received daily. Instead, you may complete the contact form, selecting Record Search under the General Subject section of the contact form.

Finding Inmates In County Jails

Information on offenders in county jails is available at the office of the County Sheriff Department. Inmate information is typically online because most of these local law enforcement agencies maintain publicly online databases. To access the online database, visit the Sheriff’s website and find the inmate roster, booking list, or jail list. 

You may also visit the Sheriff’s office in person or write a letter to them. Your letter must also contain the inmate’s full name, date of conviction, and offense. Always enclose your correspondence in a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Finding Inmates In Federal Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates six correctional facilities in Illinois. These are where persons convicted of federal crimes spend time after a trial in a federal district court. To find prisons in a federal facility, use the inmate locator. This database allows you to find the offender by name or unique numbers. A name-based search is the most convenient way to find a prisoner, but it is not the most efficient. If several prisoners bear the same name, you must sort through every result for the person of interest.

Young People Are Likely to Lose Their Money And Pride To Scammers

Confident in their ability to adopt new technology, young adults under the age of twenty-five are just as likely to lose money to scammers as people over seventy-five, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission.

According to the FTC, while the money young adults lose per scam is comparatively lower than the amount older people lose, this loss eventually adds up to nearly half a billion dollars in the last two years. Compared with older persons, scammers tend to switch tactics with young adults, exploiting the younger people’s love for technology. 

Generally, they spoof their phone numbers and impersonate a business agency or government agency in calls, emails, and texts. Among the top scams that young people fall prey to are online shopping frauds, fake check scams, business scams, romance scams. On the other hand, older people are more likely to be targets of telemarketing and tax audit phone scams.

Both demographics are routinely targeted by scammers impersonating law enforcement and government agencies like the Center for Disease Control, the DEA, and Homeland Security. A closer examination shows that scammers target the personal information of young people. Older people, who have better credit, face the challenge of protecting their financial information from scammers.

Experts attribute this likelihood of young people falling for phone and online scams to decreased vigilance. Because they spend a lot of time online, young people consider themselves inure to scams and are less likely to scrutinize an email or text for scams.

A lot of preparation goes into impersonating a legit business or government. Instead, scammers use phishing links in SMS and email to steal the private information of young adults. Another method is scammers impersonating technical support and requesting online passwords and bank account information from unsuspecting users. For many victims, the experience only hurts their pride. Others are not so lucky. They lose everything and later file for bankruptcy after being pushed to financial insolvency by scammers. Even at that, they are still at the risk of falling for debt-relief scams.

There are several ways to avoid phone scam frauds using mobile communications technology that counter fraudulent tricks scammers employ. While mobile carriers adopt the STIR/SHAKEN technology, a reverse phone search is an effective way to confirm unknown caller identity. Using authentication apps instead of SMS-based two-factor authentication also adds an extra layer of protection to passwords for social and financial accounts.  

Where A Freed Person Can Get Help In Illinois

After serving time in a correctional facility in Illinois, freedom is a relief. But it can also be a challenge. Former inmates know this newly-found freedom is not something that one embraces straight away. There are social, financial, and mental obstacles to overcome to join mainstream society. And many individuals struggle with attaining the ever-increasing and complex standard of living a crime-free life. 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, correctional facilities released nearly 577,000 people from incarceration in 2019. Illinois accounted for 3.6% of these figures, releasing about 22,000 inmates from custody. However, the Illinois Department of Corrections also reported a recidivism rate of about 41% within three years. To put it into perspective, about four of every ten persons get re-arrested and jailed within three years of release. 

How can a person with a criminal record in Illinois get the much-needed help to stay out of jail? There is no straight answer. One cannot just suggest that they stay off the streets or become recluse. But avoiding former criminal associates or the environment is the recommended first step to take. 

Likewise, former inmates can look for reentry organizations near them. Reentry organizations in Illinois help persons with criminal records ease back into society after release. The goal is to help former inmates avoid crime and re-arrest through access to gainful employment, safe housing, and access to affordable healthcare. You can find a list of reentry organizations on the Illinois Legal Aid resource page

After release, former inmates typically have difficulties in getting affordable housing. This difficulty is because most landlords perform criminal background checks and are reluctant to take persons with a criminal record as tenants. Reentry Illinois is an organization that helps former inmates find affordable housing and immediate shelter. 

Only a few former inmates can continue to pay rent for the first couple of months after release, even with affordable housing. To bridge this barrier, the Illinois Department of Employment Security assists former inmates to gain employment after conviction. On the page, check out the “Useful Links” section. There, you will find a list of local, state, and federal programs for getting legal, educational, housing, and healthcare assistance. 

Non-profit organizations that offer similar services include Safer Foundation and the City of Chicago Ex-Offenders Program. These organizations also provide resources for getting affordable healthcare and continuing education. 

The first few months – and even years – after release is the most challenging for former inmates. With these services, you can get the assistance you need to become a productive and comfortable resident of Illinois. Volunteering with local re-entry programs is also a way to give back to your community, build trust, and help reduce recidivism.