N. Lawndale nonprofits honing restorative justice court

Town hall meetings on the initiative to be held in January

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

The Lawndale Christian Legal Center is looking to recruit North Lawndale residents to take part in the new Restorative Justice Community Court.

The court is a partnership between the Circuit Court of Cook County, LCLC, local elected officials and a number of other area nonprofits. It is designed to provide an alternative form of justice for residents ages 18 to 26 who have committed non-violent crimes.

Instead of focusing on penalties, the court will focus on repairing relationships between the youths, their victims and their families, and linking them to resources that would help them build better lives. While the court won't kick off until years, the organizations and officials involved are already working to get the word out.

The restorative justice community court was originally announced in April 14. As Austin Weekly News reported at the time, it will be part of the U.S. Justice Department pilot program, with North Lawndale serving as one of the ten pilot sites.

The court will be presided over by Cook County Circuit Judge Colleen F. Sheehan and the peace circles and conferences made up of community members.

LCLC has been working toward that concept for years. In 2015, it teamed up with a number of North Lawndale community organizations to create the North Lawndale Community Restorative Justice Hub.  David Castro Harris, who takes part in the organization's outreach, told the Weekly that it grew out of the organization's belief that locking up local youth didn't work on the long run. If they wanted to reduce crime, they needed to address the trauma those young people experienced, and help them address their needs.

"Lawndale Christian Legal Center wanted to create a hub of service providers," he said. "The hub was started because the community organizations wanted to share resources, and this was a project they wanted to work on together."

The organizations that joined in include the North Lawndale Employment Network, Deer Rehabilitation Services, North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, Hope House Recovery Home and the offices of Ald. Michael Scott (24th) and Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele (2nd), among other organizations.

The services they provide as part of the hub include employment training, counseling, help with getting a GED of a high school diploma, legal assistance and conflict intervention.

24th Ward residents got a chance to hear more about the community court during the ward meeting held on Nov. 29 at the Greater Open Door Baptist Church, 1301 S Sawyer Ave. Scott said that it brings a welcome change that, he hopes, is a step towards a fairer justice system.

"We want to get to a place where we don't send young people to jail for everything they do," he said.

David Evers, Research Assistant for Steele's office and the member of the court's steering committee, gave the residents an example of how it would work.

"For instance, say there's a young man who went in and stole something from the store, and he got caught," he said. "They have an opportunity now to go to the restorative justice court. This court is not in business of sending this young man to jail. [It will look at] why did this person steal? Maybe [people in] his family didn't have a job. Maybe this person was trying to help his family. The court would try to rectify that and restore the community."

Both the perpetrator, the victim and their respective families would have seats at the table. The goal, Evers said, is to work out something that will help all of them. He also emphasized that it was important for residents to be involved.

"I want to make sure that the community is very involved in this court," Evers said.

According to the handouts distributed at the meeting, LCLC will hold several town hall meetings to help spread the world. All of them will be held at UCAN Chicago (3605 W. Filmore St). The first town hall will be held on Jan. 12, 2017, at 6:30 pm. to 8 p.m. Residents can also see the peace circles in action to get a glimpse of how the process will work. The restorative justice peace circulate experiences are held on Saturdays at 10:00 a.,m. To 12:00 p.m. at UCAN Chicago and on Wednesdays at St. Agatha Catholic Church (3147 W Douglas Blvd).

The pilot program will run for two years. It will be funded 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.

Email: igorst3@hotmail.com

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