The Circuit Court of Cook County’s Restorative Justice Community Court in Englewood held its first graduation ceremony on Wednesday, June 29, honoring 29 graduates, according to Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans. The graduates successfully completed an intensive program focused on education, accountability, and job training designed to address nonviolent crime and prevent recidivism.
The ceremony was held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, June 29, at the Salvation Army’s Adele and Robert Stern Red Shield Center, 945 W. 69th Street. This is the first graduation ceremony for this court, which opened in September 2020 and is presided over by the Hon. Donna L. Cooper.
The community court resolves conflicts through restorative conferences and peace circles involving defendants, victims, family members, friends, others affected by the crime, and the community. Victims have the opportunity to directly address the defendant to express how they were hurt and what they need to heal from the crime.
The Restorative Justice program lasts an average of six to nine months, depending on the individual. Defendants must repair the harm caused by their actions through community service. If one of the defendant’s problems is substance abuse, they also must go through a program to address that issue.
Chief Judge Evans said that part of the community court’s mission is to end the harmful cycle of revenge and recidivism.
“The whole purpose of the repair-harm agreement is to prevent a defendant from hurting a victim again, but also to stop the conduct and help that defendant realize what the consequences of that behavior are,” Evans said.
For a case to be eligible for the court, the victim of the crime must agree to participate in the process. In addition, the person charged must:
- Be 18 to 26
- Have been charged with a nonviolent felony or misdemeanor
- Live in one of the neighborhoods which has a community court
- Have a nonviolent criminal history
- Accept responsibility for the harm caused
Other Restorative Justice Community Courts are in Avondale, run by the Hon. Beatriz Santiago, and North Lawndale, run by the Hon. Patricia S. Spratt. There is also a county-wide court, focusing on non-violent drug offenses, based at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, presided over by the Hon. Daryl J. Jones.
The judges presiding over Restorative Justice courts make decisions on community-based sentences and treatment for the defendants.
Defendants who successfully complete the program have the opportunity to have their charges dropped and records expunged.