Early progress of restorative justice courts is encouraging

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From left, graduates Michelle Dennis, Jarell Davis and Charles Taylor listen to remarks at a graduation ceremony for the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Community Court.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans hit the nail on the head when he told graduates of one of Chicago’s restorative justice court programs they’d “returned to this community not as convicted felons but as contributing citizens.”

Evans spoke last week at a graduation ceremony for 80 young people who successfully completed the requirements of the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Court, one of three such courts — the other two are in Avondale and Englewood — now operating in Chicago.

It’s too soon to tell how successful the courts will be, long term, in steering young people away from further crime. But restorative practices have been implemented successfully in court systems elsewhere, so we’re choosing to be hopeful about Chicago’s effort.

Editorial

Editorial

A quick primer: Restorative courts allow young people charged with non-violent crimes to avoid the traditional court process if they accept responsibility for the offense; participate in restorative conferences and peace circles with victims and others who were affected by the crime; and make restitution. If victims decline to participate, the young person’s case is sent back to the regular court.

To be eligible, a young person must be 18 to 26 years old and live in the community where the court is located. If they have a prior criminal record, it, too, must be non-violent.

Once they complete the program, they can have the charges they were facing dropped and their arrest record expunged.

So far, the signs of success are promising. Among the 80 recent North Lawndale graduates, 76 have found jobs. Among all previous participants, 84% have so far avoided the criminal justice system altogether, the Sun-Times’ Mitch Dudek reported.

A U.S. Department of Justice review of dozens of studies involving the juvenile justice system found similar results. Young people who participated in restorative programs were less likely to become involved in criminal activity afterward than their counterparts who went through the traditional juvenile court process.

Society as a whole sorely needs new ways to deal with crime. We’re encouraged by the story of one graduate, who came to the court facing a gun charge and is now on the road, one step at a time, to running his own small business.

He’s learned he can’t hang around with friends who are in gangs because, as he put it, “Someone sees you with those people and automatically thinks you’re part of that group.”

If restorative courts can do the same for more young people, it will be worth the investment.

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October 16, 2022 at 10:39PM

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