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Chief Judge Evans praises law supporting restorative justice practices in Illinois courts, signed by Gov. Pritzker today

Released On 07/15/2021

Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans today praised the signing of SB 64, a bill designed to promote restorative justice practices, which offer an alternative to incarceration and can help break the cycle of criminal behavior. 

“I thank the governor and our lawmakers in Springfield for this legislation, which promotes something that we know can help break the cycle of criminal behavior and help people become productive members of their communities,” said Judge Evans, who was present for the signing. 

Restorative justice aims at resolving conflict through conferences and peace circles involving defendants, victims, family members, friends, others affected by the crime, and the community. It has been employed across Illinois in communities, faith-based congregations, correctional facilities, and schools, as well as at Cook County courts, and is a growing practice across the United States, with legislation in more than 30 states. 

The bill, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday morning as part of a criminal justice reform package, removes barriers to restorative justice by establishing a limited legal privilege, similar to that used in mediation, to make things said in restorative justice practices inadmissible in later court proceedings. 

For a restorative justice proceeding to be successful, parties must engage in open and honest discussions. Fear that sensitive information could be used against a participant could be a barrier to participation for many people. The law formalizes the legal protection that communications during restorative justice not be used against participants. 

The Cook County Circuit Court has opened three Restorative Justice Community Courts in Chicago since 2017, intended to help young people between the ages of 18 and 26 get a second chance after being arrested for a non-violent crime. At the courts in Englewood, North Lawndale, and Avondale, victims have the opportunity to directly address a participant 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, continued education, and other actions. Those who graduate from the year-long county program can have their records cleared. 

Judge Evans noted that young adults sometimes engage in activities like breaking into cars, or indulging in substance abuse, without thinking about the consequences of their actions.  

“We cannot prosecute our way out of the kinds of crimes these emerging adults commit,” Judge Evans said. The goal of the court is to get these young, non-violent offenders to acknowledge the impact of their offenses, empathize with victims, make restitution, and become constructive members of their communities. 

“We are encouraging the use of restorative justice practices, moving to a system that repairs harms and addresses trauma,” said Pritzker at the signing ceremony. “This legislation makes restorative justice a more viable option for survivors, cultivating safer spaces where individuals can speak freely without fear that the words will be used against them.” 

As of the end of June, Cook County had 188 participants in the Restorative Justice Community Courts and 95 graduates. 

In addition to the restorative justice law, the governor signed additional legislation, including a law prohibiting law enforcement officials from using deceptive tactics with minors during interrogations. 

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