- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - The city of Chicago will begin easing restrictions that have prevented former prison inmates from living in public housing.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the program Friday at an event to promote his administration’s efforts to help ex-offenders find jobs and housing.

“Serving time in jail or prison should not mean that you forfeit your opportunity to turn your life around,” the mayor said in written remarks accompanying the announcement. “Formerly incarcerated individuals who have paid their debt and are willing to work hard deserve a second chance at success.”

The housing restrictions date back to a time when public housing high-rises in Chicago were centers of gang activity and many residents lived in fear.

The gradual lifting of those restrictions will start off with a pilot program in which 50 former inmates will move into Chicago Housing Authority homes over the next three years.

Emanuel said the intention is to help ex-offenders become self-sufficient and reunite with family members who live in public housing.

If the pilot program works, Emanuel said he will work to permanently lift the restrictions.

Friday’s event was held at St. Leonard’s Ministries, an organization that helps ex-prisoners rebuild their lives. Several former inmates attended and told the mayor of their struggles, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

One of them, Alphonso Johnson, now works for the Chicago Transit Authority, which has an apprenticeship program for former inmates.

“My mission is to work hard and provide for my family,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “You don’t understand the impact when my wife is sitting there with the bills laid out and I can say, ‘Hey, let me pay it.’ … When you give a man an opportunity to provide for his family, it completes him.”

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