Illinois’ first restorative justice court will save money, improve outcomes

Joe Tabor

Joe Tabor is an associate with the Liberty Justice Center

Joe Tabor
July 31, 2017

Illinois’ first restorative justice court will save money, improve outcomes

Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood will host a program that brings defendants in contact with their victims and allow the victims to set the compensation for the crime.

Imagine a kid you’ve watched grow up over the years has vandalized or stolen your property.

Despite his crime, you probably wouldn’t want him to go to prison. But you wouldn’t let him get away with it either. You might work something out so that you wouldn’t have to get the police involved. Maybe you would ask him to pay for repairs or do yard work for the summer as restitution.

Now imagine a young defendant who does not have the same relationship with his victim. If he is over 18, he will most likely end up in prison and have a criminal record that will follow him for the rest of his life. But starting Aug. 31, Cook County is implementing a program for young defendants that will more closely resemble the first situation than the second.

Illinois’ first restorative justice court

The West Side Chicago neighborhood of North Lawndale will host Cook County’s first Restorative Justice Community Court, or RJCC, a program that brings defendants in contact with their victims and allows the victims to set the compensation for the crime. This will be the first restorative justice court in Illinois, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The program is already funded for the first year and a half by a $200,000 grant from the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance, according to City Bureau.

Here’s how it works:

Both the victim and the defendant would agree on an appropriate remedy, and the defendant must show remorse. He would have to take responsibility for the crime and pay the victim restitution, or commit to some hours of community service or both. Once the victim has been compensated, the court would dismiss the charges, keeping the defendant out of prison and free of a criminal record.

Defendants ages 18 to 26 who are charged with nonviolent crimes will be eligible to participate in the program. It will begin with 100 defendants and temporarily be housed in the Nichols Center, headquarters of Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network, a social service agency for youth who have suffered trauma, City Bureau reports.

Restorative justice brings cost savings, reduces recidivism

Restorative justice courts not only offer closure to victims, but have major public safety and taxpayer benefits as well. Restorative justice could potentially save the state $1,561 per participant when compared to prison sentences.

The state could also see cost savings from a reduction in recidivism.

Nearly 50 percent of ex-offenders in Illinois are back in prison within three years. Each instance of recidivism in Illinois costs, on average, approximately $118,746, including costs borne by taxpayers and victims, according to a report by the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council.

Recidivism rates from participants in Texas’ restorative justice program, on the other hand, have been far less than the national average.

If successful, the RJCC in Cook County could be expanded to save even more taxpayer money and more importantly, keep young people out of prison, employable and productive.

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