The Circuit Court of Cook County is getting serious about the increasingly popular concept of restorative justice, which is a less punitive and more therapeutic approach to crime. Last week, Chief Cook County Judge Timothy C. Evans announced the creation of a Restorative Justice Community Court that officials anticipate will open in early 2017.
The court is designed to empower “victims and residents to play an active role in the rehabilitation of adult offenders who commit certain nonviolent crimes,” according to an April 14 statement released by Evans’s office.
The court will be located in North Lawndale and will hear the cases of that community’s residents, ages 18 to 26 years old, who have committed nonviolent crimes. This pilot program, one of 10 sites in the country selected by the U.S. Justice Department, will serve a projected 100 defendants a year, according to the release. Those defendants can’t have more than one prior felony conviction.
“The ‘restorative justice’ concept emphasizes the ways that crime harms relationships in the community and brings together the people most impacted by the crime to resolve it,” the statement notes. “Under the model, defendants take accountability for their actions and then work to repair the harm — for example, through restitution, community service, letters of apology, and peace circles.”
The court will be presided over by Cook County Circuit Judge Colleen F. Sheehan and the peace circles and conferences will be facilitated by trained staff members. The court will collaborate with the Social Service Department, a corrections agency that reports directly to Evans, the statement noted.
“The community has been clamoring for change, for a transformation and to take a look at how we approach crime and what our criminal justice system is about” noted Sheehan in the statement.
Evans said in the release that the creation of the court “sends a message to the public that we are committed to resolving conflicts in our neighborhoods in a way that both helps nonviolent offenders take responsibility for their actions while also providing restitution and restoration to victims.”
The court will be paid for through a two-year, $200,000 Justice Department grant, which will cover a $60,000 per year salary of a community court coordinator, among other expenses.