After January 1, judges will be able to enroll non-violent, first-time criminal offenders in an innovative diversion program expected to relieve prison overcrowding and combat recidivism. State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13th) sponsored legislation creating the Offender Initiative Program, which is similar to probation in that it requires offenders to satisfy certain requirements and stay out of trouble with the law during a two-year period.

“We have a problem in Illinois with overcrowded prisons, and we have a problem with first-time offenders going to prison, not being rehabilitated and given the tools to succeed on the outside and then cycling through the criminal justice system again and again,” Sen. Raoul said. “Programs like Offender Initiative will help break that cycle by encouraging offenders to make restitution, put their lives in order and stay out of prison.”

The state’s attorney and a judge must consent to allow the offender to enter the program. The Offender Initiative Program requires minimum conditions for the two-year period, including holding a job or performing community service, passing drug tests, making full restitution to the victim and not owning a firearm. A judge may also require the offender to complete a drug treatment program. Both minors and adults are eligible, and judges may require minors to live with their legal guardians and attend school during the diversion program.

Once the court determines the offender has successfully completed the program, his or her arrest record will be expunged immediately. If, however, the individual is convicted of any offense within five years after the dismissal, the previous encounter with the law will be admissible as evidence in the new trial.

Senator Kwame RaoulSPRINGFIELD – Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13th) heralded the passage of Senate Bill 957 and issued the following statement:

As a child of immigrants, I understand the many and diverse contributions immigrants – regardless of documentation – make to our economy and our communities. The reality is that undocumented immigrants are already driving on our roads as they go to work, take their children to school and purchase goods and services. The federal government, on a bipartisan basis, has fallen short on immigration reform. While implementing comprehensive immigration reform is not in our domain as state legislators, we can recognize that we have hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in Illinois who inevitably utilize our roads. It’s in the interest of public safety that we acknowledge this reality and give undocumented drivers a pathway to drive legally.

SB 957 passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 41-14 and will next be considered by the House.

Senator Kwame RaoulSPRINGFIELD – Thanks to legislation sponsored by Senator Kwame Raoul (D-13th), Illinois law now allows first-time, non-violent offenders to participate in a two-year diversion program similar to probation. Once they successfully complete the program, their records will immediately be expunged, increasing their odds of getting a job and staying out of prison.

“It’s not enough just to be tough on crime; we have to be smart on crime,” Sen. Raoul said. “With our prisons filled beyond their intended capacity and our state budget stretched thin, we simply can’t afford to lock away non-violent offenders with a high likelihood of making restitution, addressing any behavioral or substance abuse problems, and turning their lives around. Enrolling these individuals in alternative programs will be cheaper and more effective than traditional incarceration.”

Senate Bill 3349, signed today by Governor Quinn, allows offenders convicted or indicted on certain felony charges (including burglary, theft, forgery, possession of a stolen vehicle, and drug possession) to participate in the “offender initiative” program only with the consent of the state’s attorney and a judge. During their two years in the program, offenders must meet minimum conditions set by a judge, such as making restitution to victims, performing community service, holding a job, completing a treatment program, and/or passing drug tests. Participants may not own a firearm during the probation period, and if they reoffend within five years, the expunged records can still be used against them in a trial.

“It has been an honor to work with Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and her office on this legislation,” said Sen. Raoul, who this spring also sponsored a new “early release” law with comprehensive safeguards. “We have seen this year that there is bipartisan momentum toward addressing the aspects of our correctional system that aren’t working and adopting tools to help us utilize our resources wisely.”

CHICAGO — More than 18 months have passed since Haiti was devastated by a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake and rebuilding Haiti is still a work in progress. State Senator Kwame Raoul of Chicago continues to collaborate with International Child Care (ICC), Children’s Memorial Hospital (CMH) and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine’s Global Health Initiative to help resurrect the Grace Children’s Hospital (GCH) in Haiti. On Wednesday ICC is hosting a dinner at 6:30 p.m. at the Union Club in Chicago to address progress and challenges with the GCH reconstruction.

“I am proud to work with a Chicago-based coalition to continue to aid Haiti, focusing on rebuilding GCH as a resource for pediatric healthcare needs,” said Senator Raoul. “Thousands of children and families will benefit from a fully operational GCH and this Chicago-Haiti partnership will continue working to make sure this hospital and other resources are provided.

ICC has been serving the people of Haiti and the Dominican Republic for 43 years and they assist more than 200,000 people in those nations annually. John Yates, International Director for ICC and representatives from CMH will share specific insights on Wednesday regarding the reconstruction and additional goals to revitalize Haiti.

For Senator Raoul helping improve life for Haitians is a deeply personal commitment. Raoul was born in Chicago to Haitian-born immigrants and he still has family who live in Haiti. His father practiced medicine, made house calls to the underserved and underprivileged across Chicago, and was a board member of International Child Care and now Senator Raoul is an ICC board member.

Business professionals, public officials, architects, doctors, philanthropists and other supporters will participate in Wednesday’s meeting.

CHICAGO – State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) will preside over a public hearing on Tuesday, December 6th to address historic disparities within the state’s pension investment firms and identify prospects for progress. Senator Raoul has been a long-time advocate for increased opportunities for Minority and Women-owned Businesses (M/WBE) in Illinois.

“A healthy Illinois business community should mean fair opportunities for all,” Raoul said. “This hearing is an opportunity to inform minority and women financial service professionals, get vital public input, and review the progress public pension funds have made in their M/WBE inclusion policy.”

As Chairman of the Senate Pensions and Investments Committee, Raoul has held annual hearings focusing on the engagement of M/WBE with the state’s pension firms, the General Assembly’s efforts to encourage pension funds to diversify the financial service firms they utilize and other key issues.

WHO: State Senator Kwame Raoul, Senate Pensions and Investments Committee members, M/WBE community and other business professionals

WHAT: Public Hearing on M/WBE inclusion in Pension Investments

WHEN: 9 a.m. on Tuesday, December 6, 2011

WHERE: Michael A. Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle St., 6th Floor Committee Room.  Chicago, IL 60601