State plans ju­ve­nile jus­tice over­haul

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MATTHEW HENDRICKSO­N, STAFF RE­PORTER mhen­drick­son@sun­times.com | @MHen­drick­sonCST

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

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