Could this court be the future of criminal justice in Illinois?
The Illinois Department of Corrections pays nearly $22,000 in direct costs per inmate.
Kid steals something. Kid gets arrested. Kid goes to court. Kid goes to jail. That’s a typical storyboard when it comes to criminal justice.
Notice anything missing? The victim.
Too often, he or she plays a frustratingly small role in criminal justice proceedings. But a new court model that’s seen success in states such as Texas and Colorado attempts to bridge that gap. It’s called restorative justice.
And it’s coming to Illinois.
The West Side Chicago neighborhood of North Lawndale will play host to the Land of Lincoln’s first step into the world of restorative justice. The Restorative Justice Community Court will host face-to-face meetings between nonviolent offenders and their victims, with a judge overseeing the proceedings, aiming at better outcomes for both sides.
Sustained success means the model could spread across the state and save serious taxpayer dollars to boot.
Here’s how it works:
An eligible offender must be between 18 and 26 years old. He has to have no violent criminal history. And he has to live in the area, too. If he’s charged with a nonviolent crime – say, stealing a neighbor’s property – both the victim and the offender must agree to participate.
That’s when the wheels of justice begin to turn.
If a neighbor’s kid steals their laptop, many Illinoisans wouldn’t want to see the rest of that young person’s life hindered by the scarlet letter of a criminal record. They’d rather have their laptop back, an assurance it won’t happen again, and some help with the wobbly step on their back porch.
Restorative justice models allow this type of arrangement in deciding a punishment that fits the crime, honoring the will of the victim while demanding accountability from the offender.
One of the most important parts of the restorative justice model is that the voluntary arrangements between victim and offender can be an alternative to prison time. That’s important. Especially in Illinois.
Incarceration isn’t free. And the outcomes speak for themselves.
The Illinois Department of Corrections pays nearly $22,000 in direct costs per inmate. If you add up employee health care, benefits, pensions and capital expenses, the cost per inmate is nearly $40,000.