February 3, 2017 |
Organization Highlight: The Restorative Justice Center
Specialized drug treatment courts first appeared in Miami in 1989, and with now over 2,000 in existence across the United States, restorative justice programs have grown exponentially in numbers and popularity.
One such program is the Restorative Justice Center (RJCC) of Cook County Circuit Court (Chicago, IL) funded through a collaboration with the Roosevelt University Mansfield Institute, donations by the Polk Foundation, and by one of ten $200,000 grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. Expected to open in early 2017, the program will consist of a locally-selected board of community leaders that will receive referrals from the local juvenile court to evaluate approximately 100 cases of non-violent offenses (e.g. drug related) of young adults ages 18 to 26 yearly, to determine sentencing based off of a restorative model. 1 The restorative model focuses on harm reparation, through restitution, recovery, community service, letters of apologies, and peace circles. For individuals that choose to participate in the program, there are a variety of clinical and social services available including: mental health counseling, substance use disorder treatment, job training, education, and parenting classes.
“Court processes will focus on addressing the needs of the participants and will empower stakeholders to communicate, repair harm, and build healthy relationships. Juveniles diverted to this court will be held accountable to their community and will receive the support necessary to successfully re-integrate back into the community.” - Staff at the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice & Transformation
Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele, one of the key legislative proponents of the Restorative Justice program holds that, “We start kids on a pathway to prison if we don’t intervene in their lives and show additional options to hunger, lack of decision making ability, homelessness, lack of parental supervision, and lack of family structure.”
In comparison to a criminal justice approach, restorative justice more closely aligns with a medical model, and are hoped to be more effective in addressing stigma, disease, trust, and collective problem solving. Steele hopes that the success of the Restorative Justice Program in Chicago will act as a model for other similar programs around the country, nevertheless, citing challenges to the success of the program in the lack of continuum of services after program completion and lack of on-going family support.
By employing an approach of early intervention and prevention to drug use, Steele believes that addiction does not have to be “the end of your life plan, you can recover and continue living a productive life.”
Beyond the support and services offered to participants of the RJCC to help provide the means necessary to change, Steele also insists that there, “must be a will to change in the life of the person involved. Without the will to change, it is an impossible fight.”