Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign the bill into law, which would go into effect in January 2022 and amend the Re-Entering Citizens Civics Education Act passed in 2019 that created a civics education curriculum and increased access to voter registration across all Illinois prisons.
That 2019 law was a product of a collaboration between students at the Stateville Correctional Center, Chicago Votes, and the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. The same groups later worked with state juvenile justice officials to negotiate the latest amendment with the help of Illinois State Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago.
“Being a person who was affected by the (criminal) justice system, you’re told you’re never going to be able to vote again,” said Javier Reyes, a formerly incarcerated organizer with Chicago Votes. “So when these bills get passed, now you’re able to give people the correct information. You’re able to empower them.”
Christina Rivers, an associate professor of political science at DePaul University, and her students, played critical roles in getting the 2019 bill drafted.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Rivers taught a class every other year at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, on law and politics attended by incarcerated people and DePaul students.
During Rivers’ first year teaching the course in 2016, her students decided to focus on felony disenfranchisement for a group project and subsequently wrote the initial drafts for the legislation. They partnered with Chicago Votes and Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights to write a legislative proposal. Three years later, it was signed into law as the Re-Entering Citizens Civics Education Act.