Chicago Utility Informative - Chicago Hiring Ex-Cons to Collect Your Unpaid Bills!
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- City to hire ex-cons as collection agents
May 24, 2006
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
If you have an overdue Chicago parking ticket, water bill or police fine, the next call you get could be from an ex-con telling you to pay up.
In a continuing effort to help people make the transition to life outside jail, the city's Department of Revenue is planning to enter into a contract with a collection agency that provides jobs for ex-offenders.
Under an ordinance Mayor Daley plans to introduce at today's City Council meeting, some of the city's outstanding debt would be turned over to Collectors Training Institute, a licensed, bonded, minority-owned collection agency that partners with the North Lawndale Employment Network.
No access to credit info
The network is a nonprofit agency that trains ex-offenders for careers in a variety of fields, including the collection industry.
Revenue Director Bea Reyna-Hickey said it's too soon to say how many ex-offenders would be hired or how much of the city's outstanding debt they would handle. But she emphasized that deadbeats have no reason to hit the panic button.
Ex-offenders will not be handling cash or credit card information. They will merely be placing phone calls to scofflaws under rigid guidelines established by the Fair Debt Collections Act. If the person on the other end of the phone decides to pay up, the call will be transferred to a payment agent, she said.
"We have the ability to screen out if there's certain categories of ex-offenders we choose not to utilize. But the most important thing is all the data will be encrypted. It's coded in a way where you can't put details together on any individual," said Reyna-Hickey, insisting there is no danger of identity theft.
"They will not have any access to credit card information or any detailed information on a customer," she said. "Various law firms and collection agencies are doing this now. This will save the city money. Collection costs will be lower. "
Aim to stop revolving door to jail
Daley has earmarked more than $8 million from the $1.83 billion windfall generated by the Chicago Skyway lease for an array of programs that help ex-offenders avoid what he calls the "revolving door" that sends two out of three back to prison.
Earlier this year, the mayor put more than money behind the ex-offender initiative.
He ordered what he called a "radical change" in the city's personnel policy to give ex-offenders who were previously disqualified -- with a few, clout-heavy exceptions, including Hired Truck kingpin John "Quarters" Boyle -- a crack at city jobs.
The personnel change was a key recommendation of a mayoral task force that spent a year examining issues confronted by the more than 20,000 ex-offenders who return to Chicago each year.