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Report: Conviction Registry Rules Cause Racial Disparity

Prison bars
Michael Coghlan
People convicted of certain crimes in Illinois, including sex offenses and violent crimes against minors, are required to register with police and follow a lengthy list of housing, travel and employment restrictions.

The current pandemic has forced Black men listed on public conviction registries into cycles of homelessness and reincarceration, criminal justice advocates said Tuesday in a plea to Gov. JB Pritzker to suspend housing limitations for registrants.

In new data, advocates pointed to “glaring racial disparities” in how state law for registrants, including those convicted of a sex offense, impacts Black men.

“Our communities deserve proven policies that direct our scarce resources toward true public safety efforts,” said Laurie Jo Reynolds, coordinator of Chicago 400 Alliance, an organization of mostly Black men who advocate for changes in the requirements of public registries.

The new data shows 1 of every 147 men in Illinois listed on a public conviction registry. One in every 42 Black men in the state is listed on the registries that are posted online through an Illinois State Police database, according to advocates.

People convicted of certain crimes in Illinois, including sex offenses and violent crimes against minors, are required to register with police and follow a lengthy list of housing, travel and employment restrictions.

Bloomington and Normal are home to 231 people convicted of sex offenses. Of 206 offenders in Bloomington, 45 are Black, according to the state’s website. Normal police monitor 25 people convicted of sex crimes, including six Black residents.   

Six registrants on the sex offender list in Bloomington are homeless, including three white and three Black men, according to the state.

Black men living in Chicago are especially impacted by the residency requirements. One in five people listed on the sex offense registry in Chicago is homeless, advocates said Tuesday, with Black men comprising 80% of the homeless on the west and south sides of the city.

The governor was asked to authorize discretion for the Illinois Department of Corrections to modify  release dates for about 1,200 inmates held in prison past their release dates because they lack approved housing for their return to the community on Mandatory Supervised Release, formerly called parole.

The strict housing guidelines for individuals convicted of a sex crime could force more than 1,000 inmates to complete their parole term in prison, a practice that allows ex-offenders to be released into the community without supervision. So far, 300 inmates have stayed past their full sentence, including parole, according to advocates.

IDOC spokeswoman Lindsey Hess said a variety of reasons may account for inmates being held beyond their release dates. A shortage of placements for mentally ill inmates who need ongoing treatment and a lack of nursing home beds for those who need care after they leave prison are among those reasons, she said.

“It is imperative all parolees have housing prior to their mandatory supervised release so agents can monitor whether they are complying with the requirements of their parole,” said Hess.

Advocates also want Pritzker to give police agencies discretion to suspend enforcement of residency restrictions “during the pandemic while physical distancing is still critical and there is a grave public safety mandate to reduce homelessness.”

Illinois currently has 32,165 people on the sex offender registry.

Homeless people who must register with police and cannot stay at shelters often are at higher risk for COVID-19 because they sleep on trains, airports and other public spaces.

“Most people could easily be housed if their housing options were not illegal,” advocates said in a statement. Some registrants help their families pay rent for homes they are barred from living in.

“Public health mandates stay at home. We should not make their housing a crime,” said the statement supported by Chicago Alliance Against Sexual exploitation, Institute on Public Safety & Social Justice, at Adler University and Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities.

Advocates asked the Illinois Legislature to consider a special session to hear arguments on the registration issues.

Edith Brady-Lunny was a correspondent at WGLT, joining the station in 2019. She left the station in 2024.