June 27, 2018

Chicago court uses peace circles in place of jail time

WBEZ- An experimental court on Chicago’s West Side resolves cases with peace circles instead of judges and juries — and officials say it could expand into other communities.

The Restorative Justice Community Court brings young adults accused of nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession or vandalism, face-to-face with their victims and neighbors.

Here’s how it works: The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office diverts qualifying nonviolent misdemeanor and felony cases from traditional court to the Restorative Justice Community Court at UCAN, a nonprofit youth development group in North Lawndale where the court operates on Thursdays.

Right now, the restorative justice court only takes residents from North Lawndale and Garfield Park between 18 and 26 years old who want to participate.

In exchange for an admission of guilt and a willingness to discuss what motivated the crime, participants are allowed to join the program.

The participant, victim, community members, and court staff come together for a confidential conversation in a peace circle to talk about the crime. The community members — not the judge — then work out a legal agreement called a “repair of harm agreement.” For example, the victim may ask the participant to paint over graffiti or volunteer at a neighborhood food drive to make amends for a crime.

The participant is connected with social service agencies to help them take GED classes or find a job, and stay crime free. The repair of harm agreement usually takes six months to a year to complete, at which point the participant’s charges are formally dropped with the potential to have their record expunged.

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