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For Those Returning from Incarceration, April Is Second Chance Month in Cook County

President Preckwinkle and officials join in support of Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer’s designation, calling for awareness and opportunities for residents returning from incarceration

Cook County, IL-(ENEWSPF)- The Cook County Board unanimously passed a resolution brought forth by Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer. 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. They all committed to sustaining and deepening efforts to collaboratively address the needs of formerly incarcerated residents in Cook County. 

“We are a nation and a County of second chances. We commit 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.” 

U.S. Has Highest Incarceration Rate in the World

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. The US has 565 people per 100,000 residents incarcerated. This country incarcerated almost 2 million people in prisons and jails nationwide. Illinois alone has 76,000 people currently in prisons. Every year, nearly 24,000 people finish their sentences and find release from Illinois prisons. Nationwide there are almost 5 million residents free who were in state or federal prisons. 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. Goals include addressing legal barriers to employment. It is also important to connect returning residents to housing and employment opportunities. Add in other individualized supports, we see reduced recidivism and improved 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.”

Second Chance Means Successful Reintegration

In recent years, Cook County has led and partnered in many initiatives aimed at assisting returning residents. They can then successfully reintegrate into their communities. These included the passing of the Just Housing Ordinance. This focused on increasing access to safe, stable, and affordable housing for residents with criminal records. There was also the Road Home Program led by the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. This proved to be a comprehensive employment and reentry support program. Also, the Housing Authority of Cook County’s voucher program assisted 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 to recognize Second Chance Month. The County also joins State and City leaders, and a growing number of research institutions. Additionally, numerous advocacy organizations formally recognize Second Chance Month.