Community Justice Concept Paper by Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force

The Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force has just published an excellent new concept paper about closing the CCJTDC and reinvesting the funds into trauma informed and restorative community-based programming instead. The full paper can be downloaded HERE (PDF). Below is the executive summary of the paper.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Who has the power to make neighborhoods safe? In recent decades, American society has looked almost exclusively to the criminal justice system to improve neighborhood safety outcomes. Yet as violence in Cook County continues to rise, it is increasingly obvious that the criminal justice system is only a part of the answer. We desperately need a new paradigm for community and systems partnerships around peacemaking, violence prevention, and family supports. At the same time, we need to confront the racial and economic injustices that perpetuate youth violence in our county, injustices that are maintained in part through our juvenile justice system.

In Chicago especially, we need to support and develop community solutions that can put an end to the city’s longstanding youth violence epidemic. While our current juvenile justice system is full of remarkable professionals, the system itself is structurally incapable of dramatically reducing youth violence. When we acknowledge this structural limitation, many questions arise- How can we better share responsibility for neighborhood safety? What are best practices for reducing youth crime through true accountability and rehabilitation? How can we effectively reinvest our resources in those communities where youth violence is concentrated?

Focused exclusively on Cook County’s juvenile justice system, this concept paper offers a starting place for answering these questions. Written by the Cook County Juvenile Justice Task Force, it calls upon all available leaders to help usher in a fundamental shift in the ways we protect our communities, support our families, and guide our young people in trouble with the law. Rather than a centralized, systems-based approach focused almost exclusively on punishment, the paper calls for a restorative, neighborhood-based model that is focused on strengthening the ability of communities to protect and nurture themselves, thereby enhancing the violence prevention effects of our juvenile justice resources.

This concept paper advances three important claims that are outside the norm of most juvenile justice debates. First, it argues that the shift to neighborhood-based juvenile justice must be fully funded. Government bodies cannot look at community solutions simply as a cost savings measure. If they do, they are endangering their constituents and neglecting the visionary possibilities of our era. Visionary leadership requires reinvesting our juvenile justice resources into those communities with the greatest need. Any attempt to improve juvenile justice outcomes without making these robust, targeted reinvestments in our young people is destined to fail.

Second, this paper calls for dealing directly with both the systemic racism and the individual traumas that underlie so much of the violence we see in our city. Though often invisible, both racism and trauma are incredibly present in our social world, pervading homes and communities in ways that we rarely discuss, let alone address. As almost any experienced youth outreach worker will attest, young people who start hustling on the streets often do so to avoid abusive situations in their homes. Yet their search for safety frequently exposes them to gang recruitment and other forms of street violence, a fact that points to complex cycles of intergenerational trauma that are reinforced by inequitable neighborhood conditions. Though common sense to many frontline workers, this basic connection between the home, the street, and the neighborhood is almost never made in our broader public safety efforts. In order to reverse this trend, the paper calls for the development of holistic responses to widespread trauma and its wider spread effects, alongside a commitment to improving neighborhood conditions.

Finally, this paper outlines a proposal for community-driven restorative justice approaches to youth crime and conflict. The ‘Restorative Justice Hub’ model that we advance is intended to reawaken our programmatic imagination, enhancing the ways we support our most isolated young people while strengthening rather than further disenfranchising our communities.

Importantly, this model is directly informed by the latest science on childhood trauma and is designed as a strategy for helping people to move beyond the effects of adverse childhood experiences, guiding them towards sustainable healing and growth. Furthermore, the model of Restorative Hubs relies upon the maintenance and continued development of community-based supports for all of our youth, not just those who are easiest to serve through traditional programs.

Taken together, these three tenets can serve as the foundation for a neighborhood-based juvenile justice paradigm that enables communities and systems to work together on improving public safety outcomes. Each of these tenets builds on one another and all three are essential pillars of reducing youth violence and helping young people to claim their full potential. By raising these pillars up – creating fully-funded, trauma-informed, restorative community solutions to youth crime – Cook County will be at the cutting edge of juvenile justice in the United States and will serve as a powerful exemplar for other jurisdictions to follow. Most critically, Cook County cannot afford to delay these fundamental reforms any longer. Our public safety depends on it.

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