State plans juvenile justice overhaul
State leaders Friday announced a fouryear plan to overhaul a juvenile justice system they described as racist and ineffective, and focus more on restorative justice practices.
The plan would repurpose the state’s five large juvenile facilities and move detainees to smaller, community-based residential centers. State officials said the idea is to “reduce the harm of incarceration.”
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton announced the 21st Century Illinois Transformation Model at New Life Community Church, 2657 S. Lawndale Ave. in the Little Village neighborhood, where since the start of the month at least two teens have been shot and murder charges were announced against two teen boys in a gang-related attack.
“We cannot continue to be a country that criminalizes the children who need the most help,” Stratton said. “We need to help our young people heal, to redirect their energy, to realize their potential and foster their dreams. It is time for a change.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the current system is built on “an antiquated theory of juvenile incarceration” that led to stark, warehouselike facilities.
Under the model, the smaller juvenile facilities would hold no more than 50 detainees and look more like college dorms. Such facilities could be built closer to juvenile offenders’ homes, making family visits easier.
Officials also pointed to the disproportionate impact of the current system on communities of color.
State Sen. Heather Steans, DChicago, called the current system “downright racist” after the governor earlier said 70% of juvenile detainees are Black, even though they make up 15% of the state’s population. Department of Juvenile Justice Director Heidi Mueller said the old model “treated children involved in the justice system, especially Black children, like they are less than human.”
Reform groups commended the plan, including the ACLU of Illinois, which sued the state eight years ago over conditions at juvenile facilities.
Two new Restorative Justice Community Courts are set to launch next month in the Avondale and Englewood neighborhoods as part of Circuit Court of Cook County’s effort to address nonviolent crime and prevent recidivism.
The courts aim to resolve conflicts through discussions and peace circles involving defendants, victims, family members, friends and the community, according to an announcement Friday by Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans.
The courts allow victims to directly address defendants.
Defendants must repair the harm caused by their actions through community service. If one of the defendant’s problems is substance abuse, they also must go through a program to address it.
Defendants who complete the program may have their charges dropped and arrests expunged.
Both the Avondale and Englewood community courts will open Sept. 14.
The Avondale court will be held at St. Hyacinth Basilica’s Resurrection Hall, 3647 W. George St. The Englewood court will be at the Salvation Army’s Adele and Robert Stern Red Shield Center, 845 W. 69th St.
For a case to be eligible, the victim must agree to participate in the process. In addition, the person charged must be 18 to 26, have been charged with a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor, live in a neighborhood that has a community court, have a nonviolent criminal history and accept responsibility for the harm caused.
The new courts come two years after the state’s first Restorative Justice Community Court opened in the North Lawndale neighborhood, which has seen about 130 defendants participate. Thirty people have graduated from the program.
“The whole purpose of the repair-harm agreement is to prevent a defendant from hurting a victim again, but also to stop the conduct and help that defendant realize what the consequences of that behavior are,” Evans said.
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton