'Civics in Prison' Bill Signed into Law
By Camille Garcia-Mendoza
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is pleased to say that on August 21st, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the “Reentering Citizens Civic Education Act” (HB 2541) into law.
The bill requires non-partisan civics workshops for individuals in the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) facilities within the twelve months prior to their scheduled release. This bill is the first of its kind in the country because the program is designed to be taught by incarcerated peer educators who are specially trained by non-partisan civic organizations.
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee provided legal counsel and technical support in drafting HB 2541, which was the culmination of classes taught at Stateville Correctional Center and DePaul University. We partnered with pro bono attorneys at Latham & Watkins LLP, Professor Christina Rivers of DePaul, Chicago Votes, Inner City Muslim Action Network, and incarcerated and returning community members to help write the bill and advocate for its passage. With the help of our hard- working coalition and elected champions like Rep. Sonya Harper, Sen. Robert Peters, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton who leads the state’s Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative (JEO), we were able to get the bill to pass with nearly unanimous bipartisan support.
This law has the potential to strengthen our democracy, reduce the high cost of recidivism, and help reentering citizens successfully re-integrate into their communities. This legislation will address a misinformation gap that keeps far too many incarcerated individuals from reclaiming their voting rights upon release. This misinformation gap is contributing to the already large racial disparity between those who are eligible to vote and those who cast their ballots. The signing of HB 2541 into law marks an important step forward in making voter access more racially equitable in Illinois, especially during a time when voting rights protections across the country are eroding.
The next step is for officials in Illinois to live up to the promise of laws like HB 2541 and SB 2090 by implementing the laws properly and on time and incorporating community input from the outset. We look forward to continued collaboration with IDOC and IDJJ, and we are committed to continued legal advocacy in partnership with incarcerated and returning community members.