The Chicago 400 highlight need to reform registry and banishment laws


Illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

The Chicago 400 Alliance is working to reform registration laws that require homeless convicted sex offenders to register every week in person.

Lydia Rivers, Reporter

The Chicago 400 Alliance and the NU Center for Civic Engagement looked at how public conviction registries and housing banishment laws disproportionately force Black men into homelessness and reincarceration in a Thursday webinar.

The event is part of One Book One Northwestern’s year of programming around Bryan Stevenson’s novel “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.” The Chicago 400 are a group of over 400 people in Chicago who are both homeless and listed on public conviction registries.

Chicago’s registry laws require convicted sex offenders that are experiencing homelessness to list where they have slept every week in person at the city’s police headquarters. Banishment laws prevent people from living within 500 feet of a school, park, day care or other space that serves minors. In Chicago, those subject to banishment laws are effectively banished from most non-rural housing for life, causing many to become homeless.

“Registry and banishment laws systemically displace, exclude and reincarcerate people with past convictions while failing to prevent victimization or support survivors,” Weinberg sophomore and panelist Chelsea Guzman said. “We see how laws that lead to economic distress, homelessness and isolation weaken the resilience of families and communities experiencing crime and incarceration.”

The lines to register in person are long, with wait times often lasting as long as five hours. Since they’re stuck in line for a day each week, it is often difficult for those needing to register to find or hold a job, forcing them into unemployment.

Similarly, the majority of the Chicago 400 are homeless due to the banishment laws themselves. About 80 percent of the Chicago 400 are poor Black men.

“Most of these people have a safe home to live in,” Laurie Jo Reynolds, coordinator of the Chicago 400 Alliance, said. “(Banishment laws) are making it illegal for them to live there.”

Failing to register or violating residency restrictions can result in arrest, and could result in a felony charge or a 10-year registration extension, the Chicago Alliance 400 campaign letter said. Because people subject to residency restrictions are excluded from shelters, they may also have to weigh the risk of sleeping indoors illegally with endangering their safety by staying outdoors.

Eduardo Burgos was arrested for failing to register during a week when the Chicago Police Department Headquarters was closed. He couldn’t make it to the office because of extenuating circumstances, but police refused to listen to his claim, and he had to spend a night in jail.

The Chicago 400 Alliance is campaigning to reform registry and banishment laws for people with past sex offense convictions, saying the laws do not improve public safety and cause preventable harm.

“At what point are you really free?” Zakiyyah Seifullah, a member of the Chicago 400 Alliance, said. “This is a lifelong punishment. It’s one thing to be homeless when life hands you bad lemons, but they’re forcing people into homelessness, into joblessness.”

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Twitter: @lydiuhrivers

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