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Restorative Justice Community Court launched in Englewood – the first on the South Side

Released On 09/16/2020

South Side aldermen, state and federal lawmakers, judges and community representatives joined Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans on Wednesday to cut the ribbon for the new Restorative Justice Community Court in Englewood. 

The court, located at the Salvation Army’s Adele and Robert Stern Red Shield Center at 845 W. 69th Street, follows on the success of the first Cook County Restorative Justice Community Court, established in North Lawndale in 2017. A new community court also opened this week in Avondale, on the Northwest Side. 

Community courts resolve 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. This may involve community service, or other requirements. If defendants have problems with substance abuse, they also must go through a program to address that issue. 

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 makes decisions on community-based sentences, treatment for the defendants, and other programs.  

“We are here to help the young people of this community,” Evans said.

 

He explained that scientific research has shown that the brains of young adults are still “emerging,” and that the portion of the brain responsible for good judgment isn’t fully developed until the age of 26. That’s why Restorative Justice Community Courts were developed for young adults. 

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 goal of the court is to get these nonviolent offenders to acknowledge the impact of their offenses, empathize with victims and make restitution.  

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Donna L. Cooper, who grew up in Englewood, serves as the steward of the Englewood court. 

She said the restorative justice courts are planned as “a diversion program,” that provides young people a chance “to keep their records clean and to get back or stay on track.” 

“The young persons will address the harm that was done to the community,” she said. 
 
One Chicagoan who has gone through the program is Charles Taylor, 26, who went to the North Lawndale RJCC after facing a narcotics charge. To complete the process, he needed to open a bank account, write a letter of appreciation to his supportive girlfriend, get his forklift license, clear up debts and do community service in a non-violence program, passing out food, masks and gloves. 

Taylor said the peace circles showed him how he could do better, and think about things in a different way. 

“You change your mind about how you think about things…” said Taylor, who had a job interview on Wednesday. “I like how it really puts your life, if it’s not on track, back on track.” 

The Social Service Department, a community corrections agency which reports to Chief Judge Evans, works with the RJCC on this initiative. Defendants who successfully complete the program may have the opportunity to have their charges dismissed and arrest and court 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 worked with 135 participants. About 64 have officially graduated from the program or have successfully completed the process and are waiting for the next graduation ceremony, which has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.   

Officials who attended the Englewood ribbon-cutting ceremony included U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush; Juvenile Justice Division Presiding Judge Michael P. Toomin; Illinois State Senator Iris Martinez; Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli; Retired Judge Sheila Murphy, co-director of the UIC John Marshall Restorative Justice Project; Aldermen Roderick Sawyer, David Moore, Jeanette Taylor, Stephanie Coleman and Raymond Lopez. Representatives for the Cook County State’s Attorney also attended.  


As resources permit, the court plans to establish RJCC in other areas of the county.   

 

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