Jarrell Davis shakes the hand of Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans after receiving his certificate from the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Community Court on Thursday, Oct. 13 at UCAN Chicago. | Shanel Romain

The Restorative Justice Community Court (RJCC) in North Lawndale held its annual graduation ceremony at UCAN, 3605 W. Fillmore, on Oct. 13.

Created in 2017, the court utilizes “restorative justice conferences and peace circles to resolve disputes,” focusing on the root causes of crime, according to its website.

In order to be eligible for the court, offenders must be “between 18 and 26, have been charged with a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor, live in North Lawndale, have a nonviolent criminal history” and accept responsibility for the harm caused.

Rashawn Fields performs a rap that he wrote to describe his experience in the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Community program on Thursday, Oct. 13 at UCAN Chicago. | Shanel Romain

In addition, the victim of the crime has to agree to participate in the restorative justice process.

This year, 80 people graduated from the RJCC program but only four were present for the graduation ceremony. Court representatives said most of the graduates were absent due to work obligations, among other reasons.

Judge Patricia Spratt, who presides over RJCC, said the court has taken 256 total cases since its creation five years ago. She said 150 cases have been dismissed, some are still going through the court, some were transferred to other courts and some returned to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Judge Spratt said the court has an 80% success rate and challenged other local, state and county officials to open more restorative justice courts.

“Our young people are our most valuable nonrenewable resource,” Spratt said on Oct. 13. “In this court, we can help young people avoid being lost to society.”

Michelle Dennis and Jarrell Davis were among the 80 students who graduated from the North Lawndale Restorative Justice Community Court on Thursday, Oct. 13 at UCAN Chicago. | Shanel Romain

Judge Timothy Evans, the chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, spoke directly to the graduates in attendance.

“I just want you to know how proud we are of you,” Judge Evans said. “We know what you’ve been through. We know you didn’t have the resources that you needed when you were growing up. We know you’ve been traumatized. We know what you’ve had to overcome. But look at you now.”

Chief Judge Evans called the graduates “the representatives for the West Side,” adding that the “whole West Side wants to come here instead of going to 26th and California because of your success. They see how successful it is here. This system is about healing young people, not just punishing them.”

Jarrell Davis, 22, was one of those graduates in attendance at the Oct. 13 ceremony.

“I came into the program around March of last year and it took me up until now to get through it,” Davis said. “It was a long journey, a blessing in disguise, because it helped me spiritually, mentally, and physically. It was a good journey.”

CONTACT: shanel@growingcommunitymedia.org