Restorative Justice Community Court provides much needed second chances

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alt text By Elijah Walker, Criminal Justice Reform Reporter, The Real Chi
 
 

For 24-year-old North Lawndale native Devell Hill, selling drugs was more of a requisite than a choice. However, after being arrested he realized that his judgments could affect the people who look up to him. “With me on the right track, I can be a better influence to my son, niece and friends," he said. "This will allow for me to provide a better life for them that I didn’t have.”

Hill was charged in North Lawndale’s “K Town” area and agreed to become a part of the restorative justice process after encouragement from his lawyer. After some drug deals went wrong, Hill lost a brother and numerous friends to murder, and missed his own son’s birth and first birthday because he was incarcerated for selling drugs. Since participating in the restorative justice process, he considers his past lifestyle to have brought him only heartbreak and pain.

“It isn’t right for a young person to face five to ten years in jail for a minor offense that was a mistake that is repairable.”

North Lawndale’s Restorative Justice Community Court, one of only ten restorative justice courts approved by the Department of Justice, aims to repair the emotional and mental traumas taken on by both the victim and person charged. Since Hill was under the age of 26 and his offense was nonviolent, he was able to take advantage of the RJCC and take responsibility for the crime he committed.  

 The room where all Restorative Justice Community Court cases are processed

The room where all Restorative Justice Community Court cases are processed

Jackie Ingram, a community liaison peacekeeper for the RJCC and a native of North Lawndale, checks in with members of the peace circles to make sure the RJCC is having a positive impact on their lives. This includes keeping people motivated and focused, to keep them from straying back to their old ways.

"When I am helping these young people with their lives, I'm going in with the attitude that it could be me," said Ingram.

As a peacekeeper, Ingram helps to create a Repair of Harm Agreement that details the necessary actions needed to repair the harm caused by the crime. If the person charged fulfills their requirements, the case will be dismissed, but if they're not cooperative the case will be transferred out of the RJCC to the appropriate district court.

Ingram is a firm believer that the RJCC is perfect for a neighborhood like North Lawndale, which continues to be underserved by the current justice system. “It isn’t right for a young person to face five to ten years in jail for a minor offense that was a mistake that is repairable,” she said.

“With me on the right track, I can be a better influence to my son, niece and friends. This will allow for me to provide a better life for them that I didn’t have.”

The RJCC helps repair those mistakes by reintegrating the offender back into the community. It connects them to services that help build their character, such as education, job training, parenting classes and other useful resources. For example, a person with drug charges would be offered substance abuse classes. 

Hill believes that if he didn’t hear about the RJCC, he would likely have ended up back in jail. "Any help that I can get, I'll take it," he said.

Hill plans on using this second chance to start up his own food truck business selling soul food. He has long-term goals of expanding into owning his own restaurant with various food cuisines. "I'm taking culinary art classes right now so that I am able to learn different ethnic types of food I could use in my own restaurant," he said.