Todd Belcore has always pursued an ambitious goal: He wants to make society a fairer place for its most disadvantaged members.
That’s why it’s no surprise that Belcore, with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, works so passionately today to ensure that the hard-working men and women with criminal records who have turned their lives around are not un- justly denied access to the jobs, occupational licenses or housing they need to care for themselves and their families.
Belcore has already made a difference for these men, women, and their families. In the past five years, Belcore has worked tirelessly with stakeholders and elected officials from both sides of the aisle to craft and pass 10 pieces of legislation.Two examples from 2014 are HB 2378 & HB 5701.
HB 2378 expands sealing to include low-level offenses like misdemeanor assault. HB 5701, or the Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act, removes the “have you ever been convicted for a crime” check box from the initial employment application and requires that employers make such inquiries after first de- termining that an applicant is qualified for the job and given an interview or a conditional offer of employment.
“Todd’s work has demonstrated not only how socially damaging and needless these obstacles are, but also how one lawyer fo- cused on creating and implementing a comprehensive strategy toward social reform can have an enormous impact for improv- ing societal welfare,” said John Elson, emeritus professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law.
Belcore, though, doesn’t limit his work to legislative efforts. He has also provided legal assistance to hundreds of men and women throughout Illinois. Knowing that he cannot do it all himself, Belcore works to increase the pool of advocates who can help people overcome these barriers, as well.
Belcore’s work has not gone unnoticed. Carol Ashley,Vice President of Advocacy with the Sargent Shriver Center, said that members of the media and his fellow advocates often seek out Belcore for advice and commentary.
“Todd is an unofficial ambassador for community members who have been touched by the criminal justice system and are seeking second-chance opportunities,” Ashley said.“Importantly, Todd manages this responsibility with grace and humility, fur- thering his advocacy relationships and work.”
Dennis Reboletti, an attorney based in Addison, Illinois, and a former member of the Illinois House of Representatives, met Belcore while the attorney was working on several criminal justice issues for the Sargent Shriver Center. Reboletti was a former prosecutor, and known as someone who was tough on crime.
This didn’t stop Belcore from meeting with Reboletti and working to get the former prosecutor’s support on key reforms.
“It would be fair to say that there were those who would suggest it would be a waste of time to speak with me on these issues,” Reboletti said. “That did not deter Todd in the least. He determined that I should be the first place to visit. While we did not agree on every issue, Todd and I worked on some major reforms that allowed relief to the previously convicted and incarcerated.”
In his rare moments of free time, Belcore continues to work with the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival (CIS- CFF), a non-profit that he co-founded back in 2011. CISCFF is an annual 3-day festival that attracts hundreds of attendees from around the world and is a platform to raise awareness of social issues and inspire change through film. Belcore is also an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, where he taught a course on negotiations and is teaching a course relating to eradicating the “New Jim Crow.”