The first Restorative Justice Community Court ( RJCC ) in the state of Illinois will launch at UCAN's North Lawndale campus in August, with Cook County Circuit Court Judge Colleen Sheehan presiding. RJCC will be held once a week on Thursdays beginning Aug. 31.
Sheehan, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, RJCC steering committee members and other dignitaries appeared at a press conference at UCAN July 20 to announce the new court. About 100 people attended.
UCAN is a social service organization dedicated to building strong youth and families via healing, education and empowerment programs.
Young adults aged 18-26 who commit nonviolent crimes are RJCC's focus. The court's process will give victims and residents the ability to play an active role in the rehabilitation of these offenders. The other criteria for these offenders include that they reside in North Lawndale, have a nonviolent criminal history, accept responsibility for the harm they caused as well as the willingness of both parties participating in the RJCC. This process is designed to help offenders reintegrate into the community more seamlessly through services such as mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, education, job training and parenting classes and is expected to serve about 100 defendants in its first year.
"We are thrilled to have the opportunity to host the North Lawndale RJCC ... and do our small part in this ambitious and incredibly important effort for our community," said UCAN Chicago President and CEO Zach Schrantz.
Schrantz also welcomed Sheehan ( one of 23 currently serving openly LGBTQ Cook County Circuit Court judges ) to her new home away from home.
Sheehan said this is an historic day for justice in the state of Illinois. She noted the officials who made this possibleincluding 24th Ward Ald. Michael Scott Jr., Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli and Foxxand thanked Evans for "his leadership, vision, accessibility, courage and support."
"The core of the RJCC is the community," said Sheehan. "This is truly the people's court. The community has the power to determine how they heal from the harm of crime and conflict. It is the community that has the wisdom and humanity to do this. Every human being in every community wants safety and a sense of belonging. This court helps provide the structure and support so the community of North Lawndale can bring that healing home. When endeavoring to do something that is new and not business as usual it is easy to identify the reasons it cannot be done. No matter what those reasons are, it is time to act boldly as if people's lives depended on it and they do. That maxim is never truer than it is today. If not us then who, if not now then when. The time is now."
Sheehan explained what the court will look like, noting that participants will sit at a table at the same level as the judge and be part of confidential peace circles of supporters for both the offender and victim( s ). Peace circle agreements will be reported to, and monitored by, the court and, once the harm has been repaired, charges will be dropped and arrests expunged. Sheehan further noted that the court was three years in the making, and praised two women who supported and nurtured her, as well as helped her write the vision plan for the RJCC, Nancy Michaels and Michelle Day.
"Success in this court will be measured in many ways but I will measure [it] by how true we are to the principles of restorative justice," said Sheehan. "I hope people are open enough to this idea that they replicated in other communities across the city and beyond."
Evans spoke about his responsibilities as chief judge, including identifying and establishing courts like the RJCC to meet needs that have not yet been embraced by the wider world. According to Evans, the RJCC is focusing on 18-26 year olds because in many cases, "They suffer from the same syndromes that plague some of our juveniles, and that is they often embrace risk-taking activity without considering the complications that flow from those kinds of sensation-seeking activities." He also noted that officials are looking to replicate the RJCC in the Englewood and Roseland neighborhoods, among others.
Other speakers included I AM ABLE Center for Family Development CEO and President Carolyn Vessel; North Lawndale Employment Network Director of Workforce Programs and Clinical Services Jose Wilson; Foxx; and Campanelli.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Sheehan and the other dignitaries followed the press conference.