Northwest Side public officials, judges and community representatives joined Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans on Monday to cut the ribbon for a new Restorative Justice Community Court in Avondale.
The Avondale court, which will be held at Restoration Hall at St. Hyacinth Basilica, 3657 W. George St., will follow the success of the state’s first Restorative Justice court in the North Lawndale neighborhood, launched in 2017.
The Avondale court will open on September 14.
The community court resolves conflict through restorative conferences and peace circles involving defendants, victims, family members, friends, others affected by the crime, and the community.
Victims have the opportunity to directly address the defendant to express how they were hurt and what they need to heal from the crime. Defendants also must repair the harm caused by their actions through community service.
Chief Judge Evans said that part of the court’s mission is to end the harmful cycle of revenge and recidivism among young adults. The court will make decisions on community-based sentences, treatment for the defendants, and other programs.
“We have recognized for a long time that young people need a second chance,” said Evans, during the Monday ceremony.
Evans said that by helping to repair harm within a community, the Restorative Justice courts can “truly save the lives of the young people who will be coming before us.”
For a case to be eligible for the court, the victim of the crime 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 one of the neighborhoods which has a community court
- Have a nonviolent criminal history
- Accept responsibility for the harm caused
The Avondale court will be run by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kristyna Ryan.
Judge Ryan said during the ceremony that the criminal justice system too often functions like a “fixed-gear bicycle.” Alternative justice and problem-solving courts offer an additional gear, to “help us on our journey to make our community stronger and safer.”
Judge Evans noted that about 120 years ago, officials in Cook County recognized that children under the age of 18 are not little adults, and their crimes must be prosecuted in different ways.
Recent brain science research has shown that the brains of young adults are still “emerging,” and that the portion of the brain responsible for good decision making is not fully developed until age 26, Evans said. This is why Restorative Justice courts were developed for young adults.
Young adults sometimes engage in activities like breaking into cars, or indulging in substance abuse, without thinking about the consequences of their actions, Evans noted.
“We cannot prosecute our way out of the kinds of crimes these emerging adults commit,” Evans said. The goal of the court is to get these non-violent offenders to acknowledge the impact of their offenses, empathize with victims and make restitution.
“People who hurt people have generally been hurt themselves,” Evans said.
The Social Service Department, a community corrections agency which reports to Chief Judge Evans, will work with the RJCC on this initiative. Defendants who successfully complete the program have the opportunity to have their charges dismissed and records expunged.
Members of the community were extensively involved in the development and planning of the RJCC.
Since its opening in August 2017, the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Court, run by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Spratt, has seen about 130 defendants as participants. Thirty people have officially graduated from the program, and 32 others have successfully completed the process and are waiting for the next graduation ceremony, which has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Public officials who attended the Avondale ribbon-cutting ceremony included Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli; Aldermen Ariel Reboyras, Carlos Ramirez Rosa, Felix Cardona and Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez; Cook County Commissioners Luis Arroyo Jr. and Bridget Degnen; and State Senator Iris Martinez. Representatives for the Cook County State’s Attorney also attended.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new Englewood Restorative Justice court will be held on August 10. As resources permit, the court plans to establish RJCC in other areas of the county.
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