AVONDALE — A new restorative justice community court, the second court of its kind in Chicago, opened in Avondale on Monday.
The goal of the court, located at St. Hyacinth Basilica’s Resurrection Hall at 3647 W. George St., is to reduce recidivism and dismantle what officials describe as a “racist” criminal justice system that disproportionately harms Black and Brown Chicagoans.
The court will mediate community intervention and resolutions for young people who have committed nonviolent crimes, rather than sending them to jail. The city’s first restorative justice community court opened in North Lawndale in 2017.
“So far, communities would simply arrest them, prosecute them, send them to jail and they’d come back with the same problems they left with,” Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans said at Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“We have discovered that we cannot prosecute our way out of the kinds of crimes that these emerging adults commit.”
Young adults between the ages of 18 and 26 in the Avondale, Logan Square and Portage Park areas can have their case diverted to the restorative justice court by the state’s attorney if both the person charged and the person who was harmed agree to participate.
From there, participants join a peace circle under the supervision of a circle keeper who helps them create a Repair of Harm agreement submitted to the court. Participants can get their charges dropped or arrests expunged.
So far, 130 young people have participated in the program in North Lawndale, according to a news release. Court officials are opening a third restorative justice community court in Englewood next week.
The Avondale court has been in the works for about three years. It’s overseen by the circuit court’s social service department.
Evans said he chose Avondale because, according to local police, the area is seeing the kind of nonviolent crimes that can be diverted to a restorative justice community court.
“We say to them, when they get arrested: ‘We’re not going to send you to jail,” Evans said. “We are going to make certain that you repair the harm that you have committed, but also that you get the kind of help you need so you won’t engage in this kind of conduct in the future.”
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kristyna Ryan, one of the judges who will run the Avondale court, said these types of programs buck the one-size-fits-all approach to criminal justice.
“Our criminal justice system too often functions like a fixed gear bicycle. We’ve been stuck with one gear for far too long,” Ryan said. “Problem-solving court and restorative justice community court add more gears to our bike. They help on our journey to make our community stronger and safer.”
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli also said she supports alternative approaches to court intervention.
“Not everybody believes in what we’re doing here,” Campanelli said. “It’s hard to bring change, any kind of change, to a system that has been the same for decades.”
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