Jobs, Housing, and Other Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions in Illinois

Jobs, Housing, and Other Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions in Illinois

A criminal conviction can have many long-lasting consequences that go beyond serving time or paying fines imposed by a court. These additional penalties are known as “collateral consequences” and they can severely impact a person’s ability to get a job, find housing, receive government benefits, vote, and more. This article will examine some of the major collateral consequences faced by people with criminal records in Illinois and discuss their implications.


One of the biggest hurdles for people with criminal records is finding employment. There are several laws in Illinois that restrict hiring of people with certain types of convictions:

  • The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act prohibits hiring anyone with convictions for serious crimes like murder, sex offenses, and battery at nursing homes and long-term care facilities[1]
  • The Illinois School Code prohibits hiring anyone with convictions for serious drug offenses, sex offenses, and crimes against children at public or private schools[2]
  • State licensing laws prohibit people with convictions from getting licensed for many jobs like barbers, accountants, nurses, and more[3]

Even when not legally prohibited, many employers are reluctant to hire people with criminal histories. A recent survey of Illinois employers found that a majority conduct background checks and would “probably not” or “definitely not” hire an applicant with a criminal record[4].

This presents major barriers to employment. Unemployment rates for formerly incarcerated people have been estimated at over 27% nationally[5]. Lack of employment can lead to financial instability and a higher likelihood of recidivism. Some advocates have called for “ban the box” policies to prevent initial discrimination and allow applicants to explain their records.


Finding housing is also extremely difficult for people with certain types of convictions in Illinois. The Illinois Housing Authorities Act allows local housing authorities to deny housing benefits to people with criminal histories[6]. Many landlords also conduct background checks and may deny housing to applicants with criminal records.

Sex offenses present a particular challenge. Illinois law prohibits people convicted of sex crimes from living within 500 feet of a school, park, or playground, which severely limits housing options in many areas. Violating this restriction can result in felony charges. Homelessness rates among registered sex offenders have been estimated at over 10% in some studies.

Housing instability can make re-entry and rehabilitation much more difficult. Some advocates have called for reforms like banning blanket housing denials and allowing people to appeal denials based on rehabilitation efforts.

Civic Participation

Criminal convictions in Illinois can also restrict voting rights and access to government benefits. People incarcerated on felony charges cannot vote while in prison. After release, voting rights are restored but people on probation, parole or supervised release cannot vote.

Many government benefits like food stamps and cash assistance are restricted for people with drug-related felony convictions. These restrictions were introduced as part of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act and expanded by the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act. Critics argue these policies disproportionately impact women and children in poor communities.

Limits on voting rights and aid programs further exclude people with convictions from full civic participation. Advocates have called for expanding access to restore voting rights and make benefits more accessible to people who have served their time.

Family and Social Impacts

The impact of a conviction goes far beyond the individual to affect families and communities. A criminal record can strain personal relationships and disrupt family dynamics. The incarceration of a parent has been linked to poor outcomes for children including mental health issues, school drop-out, and future incarceration.

At a community level, high incarceration rates disrupt social networks and economic prospects, particularly for poor and minority neighborhoods. Experts argue this can reinforce cycles of poverty, instability, and crime.

These wide-ranging “collateral consequences” reveal how criminal convictions can perpetuate inequality. Many advocates argue that reforms should look beyond the individual to address these family and community impacts.


Criminal convictions in Illinois create barriers to jobs, housing, civic participation and family stability that last long after a sentence is served. These extra punishments are embedded in many laws and practices that need re-examination.

Some positive steps are being taken – Illinois has passed laws to help with record expungement and occupational licensing. However, substantial reforms are still needed to reduce discrimination and support the social reintegration of people with records. Alleviating collateral consequences is crucial to create a more just society.


[1] Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, 210 ILCS 45/3-206.01

[2] Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/10-21.9

[3] Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, “Criminal History FAQ”

[4] Illinois Chamber of Commerce et al., “Getting to Work: How Illinois’ Statutory Restrictions on Occupational Licensure for Individuals with Criminal Records Are Impeding Statewide Economic Growth” (2018)

[5] Lucius Couloute, “Nowhere to Go: Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people” (2018)

[6] Illinois Housing Authorities Act, 310 ILCS 10/8.1

Illinois Criminal Code of 2012, 720 ILCS 5/11-9.3

Jill Levenson et al., “Where for Art Thou? Transient Sex Offenders and Residence Restrictions” (2013)

Illinois Constitution, Section 2. Voting Disqualifications

Illinois Criminal Code of 2012, 730 ILCS 5/5-5-5

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, 21 U.S.C. § 862a

Holly Foster and John Hagan, “The Mass Incarceration of Parents in America: Issues of Race/Ethnicity, Collateral Damage to Children, and Prisoner Reentry” (2009)

Jeffrey Fagan, Valerie West, and Jan Holland, “Reciprocal Effects of Crime and Incarceration in New York City Neighborhoods” (2003)

Illinois House Bill 2265 (2021)