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Criminal record difficult to overcome when searching for jobs

Published: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 11:36 p.m. CDT
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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
First Institute Remedial Assessment Specialist Patricia Braksick oversees Willis Yurs, 41, of DeKalb as he works on an online tutoring program Friday at Illinois WorkNet Center in DeKalb. When Yurs started the tutoring program, he tested at a 4.6 grade level. Now, after four months, he tests at a 12.9 grade level according to the Test of Adult Basic Education. Yurs hopes to complete his schooling to be a truck driver and get a job this month.

DeKALB – Brandon Clanin knows his criminal record is keeping him from having the career he wants.

Clanin, of DeKalb, was released from prison in 2009 and completed a year of parole. He said he’s not the same person he was when he was convicted of burglary and residential burglary for incidents that happened in May 2005, when he was 28 years old.

Now 36, he started a home computer-repair business called Computer Problems in 2010, has an associate degree in computer technology from the University of Phoenix, and is working with a local employment center to obtain grants to further his education. He said he just wants employers to give him a chance after many have turned him down because of his record.

“I feel a felony background automatically eliminates me from a good job that involves brain work,” Clanin said. “I regret the foolish choices I was making. When I was going through bad times growing up, I didn’t have a good perspective on who I am or what I wanted to do.”

Robert Brame, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, led a January study published in the Crime and Delinquency journal, which showed 49 percent of black men and 40 percent of white men have been arrested by the time they turn 23. These arrests can hurt their ability to find work, go to school and participate fully in their communities.

Brame has also done research that shows the older someone’s criminal history is, the less predictive it is of future behavior.

“If you’re going to use it to screen people, if the rationale behind that is people might commit crimes in the future,” Brame said, “our research shows the older the criminal history is, the less valid it is to exclude people.”

Unlike some states, Illinois does allow convicted felons the right to vote, or to serve on a jury, once they have served their sentence. Convicted felons, with the exception of some people convicted of drug crimes, are eligible to receive federal student aid for college. The expansion of the Affordable Care Act this year even gave more recently released prisoners access to Medicaid.

However, those searching for jobs find many employers are not willing to give them a chance, and make no distinction if a felony conviction came 2 years or 10 years ago.

Tax credits of up to $1,500 an employee are available to employers who hire felons, and the Illinois WorkNet Center, 1701 E Lincoln Highway, DeKalb, works with people who have criminal records.

Sharon Dillon is the director of client services at the Illinois WorkNet Center. She estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of the center’s clients have a criminal past.

“We’re facing a lot of employers that aren’t willing to hire anyone with a felony, no matter how long it’s been,” Dillon said. “The majority will say it depends on what it was, and they look at the charge.”

Willis Yurs has two pending felony theft charges and has applied for more than 60 jobs since April.

The 41-year-old DeKalb resident is also taking part in the county’s drug court and DUI programs, and once completed, those charges will be dropped and expunged from his record. He is also enrolled in the truck-driving program at Kishwaukee College, and will receive his CDL on Tuesday.

“As soon as I get to the background check the interview is over,” Yurs said. “I’m trying to do all the right things, and look forward to a better life after graduating the programs and getting my CDL.”

Northern Illinois University, DeKalb County’s largest employer, requires pre-employment criminal background investigations for a litany of jobs, including volunteer security positions.

On its website, NIU states criminal background checks are “considered only to the extent that the information is relevant to the job responsibilities, qualifications, fitness, and/or suitability of the employee for the position.”

DeKalb resident Terry Miller said he hasn’t had much trouble landing a job despite his record. Miller received court supervision in January 2012 for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Court supervision is a type of non-reporting probation in which a conviction isn’t entered on the person’s record if they complete the sentence without any problems.

Miller, who is working to become a certified welder with the help of the Illinois WorkNet Center, said there is a difference in how people with drug problems are perceived in Illinois as compared with Idaho, where he used to live.

“In Idaho, it was totally different,” he said. “Their goal is to help you rehab. [Their view is] the person needs help more than anything. There’s a blurred line between what you call a criminal here versus there.”

Margi Gilmour, director of DeKalb County Court Services, said probation officers also try to help their clients become productive members of the community. They work with offenders who were convicted of felonies that didn’t result in prison sentences or misdemeanors while the offenders are still completing their sentences.

Although they aren’t employment counselors, probation officers give their clients advice on how to turn their thinking from negative to positive thoughts, Gilmour said.

“If we look overall and try to get them to be productive members of the community, that’s a positive thing for everybody,” Gilmour said.

Daily Chronicle Web Editor Lawerence Synett contributed to this report.

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