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CGLA’s Policy and Advocacy Year-End Reflections: Looking back while facing forward

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

December 21, 2021

As the year draws to a close, we are looking back at how Cabrini Green Legal Aid changed legislation in 2021 and how we intend to make change in 2022.

In 2021, as part of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI), CGLA worked with leaders of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to pass the Public Housing Access Bill and the Employee Background Fairness Act. Both of these bills help address persistent barriers to individuals who have been caught up in the criminal legal system, enhancing access to safe and affordable housing and assisting people with criminal records in their efforts to seek employment.

Several thousand Illinois families have been unable to access public housing due to the widely varying admissions criteria and regulations that are in place in the over 100 various Public Housing Authorities across Illinois. These inconsistencies greatly disadvantage families and increase the likelihood of homelessness, which in turn increases the likelihood that individuals will become re-involved with the criminal legal system. The Public Housing Access Bill (PHAB) sets consistent admissions criteria and regulates Public Housing Authorities’ screening processes. The narrowed admissions criteria outlined in this bill expand access to public housing to a broader swath of system-impacted people. By scaling up access to public housing, PHAB advances community safety, keeps people housed, and reduces recidivism.

Criminal backgrounds pose an incredible obstacle to finding a job. An applicant with a record is 50-63% less likely to get a call back or a job offer than an identical applicant without a record. This barrier disproportionately impacts Black Illinoisans, as Black applicants with criminal backgrounds are even less likely to get a call back than White applicants with criminal backgrounds and comparable employment histories. Until the implementation of the Employee Background Fairness Act (EBFA), Illinois had limited procedures in place for assessing an applicant’s criminal background during the hiring process. EBFA sets new standards, requiring employers to notify job seekers when they are performing a background check, and giving job seekers the opportunity to dispute or contextualize the details of a background report. EBFA also offers protections and pathways to possible recourse to individuals who perceive that they are being discriminated against due to their criminal history. The Employee Background Fairness Act both expands access to employment and works to level the playing field by mitigating this barrier that disproportionately impacts Illinoisans of color.

In addition to PHAB and EBFA, CGLA has passed nine other bills over the past six years, including seven others that were created in partnership with RROCI. RROCI is a collective of organizers, policy specialists, and advocates with lived experience in the criminal legal system. Current and past members of RROCI have included the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Renewal Society, Heartland Alliance, and CGLA. RROCI advocates for state policies that remove barriers for people in reentry, including lifetime employment bans and limited access to housing. RROCI’s recent priorities have included job-access bills, record-sealing bills, and housing reentry protections. These eleven bills are:

As we celebrate these recent wins and more than a half decade of successes, we plan to take 2022 to look closely at the implementation of these bills to ensure that they are helping communities to the fullest extent possible. We are always mindful of how protections and rights afforded by these laws are utilized, which is why we will prioritize assessing the implementation of these bills so far and developing strategies to build on existing implementation efforts. Led by RROCI volunteers, our assessment process will include meeting with stakeholders, educating the public and impacted communities, and researching how effective the implementation of these bills has been. This process will inform our efforts to improve implementation and future advocacy.

Twenty twenty-one was an exciting year for our policy and advocacy work at CGLA. As we look forward to 2022 we’re grateful for the opportunity to reflect on all that has been accomplished by our dedicated Leaders and staff over the last 48 years. If you are interested in supporting our efforts or learning more about our recent policy victories and their implications for Illinoisans, we encourage you to get in touch, or check out the following offerings:

Learn more about our Leadership Council

Apply to join our Leadership Council

Request one of our trainings for your group or organization


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