Restorative Justice and the Juvenile Justice System

Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC)

In Chicago and cities throughout the United States, young people of color are disproportionately affected by high rates of poverty, arrest, school dropout, unemployment and violence. Too often, punishment and referral to the juvenile and criminal justice system are the first responses to these complex social issues, despite high rates of youth re-offending, and skyrocketing costs. As a result, youth of color are overrepresented at every stage of the juvenile justice process, from arrest, to court referral, to detention and incarceration. At each stage, restorative practices can be used as alternatives to decrease DMC. Restorative practices have the potential to impact positively DMC both by serving as alternatives to arrest, court referral and incarceration, and by mobilizing communities of color around progressive juvenile justice issues.

Using Restorative Practices Across the Continuum

Restorative practices can be used at each entry point in the juvenile justice system. CJYI has used restorative practices:

  • As a way to prevent conflict at schools and in communities by providing spaces for dialogue and healing through peacemaking circles
  • As an alternative to arrest in communities and schools through conflict circles and healing circles
  • As a community-based court diversion after an arrest but instead of adjudication
  • As a way to prepare youth to return to school following suspension, expulsion, or time in an alternative school
  • As a way to transition youth back to the community following detention or imprisonment

We continue to focus our work in Chicago communities most impacted by the juvenile justice system. We have been instrumental in pushing the agenda of juvenile justice reform and insisting that community engagement be front and center of any strategy for impacting DMC, the school-to-jail pipeline and the criminalization of youth. This is a crucial time for ensuring that community engagement remains central to juvenile justice reform. A primary challenge at this stage is to ensure that the voices of communities impacted by the juvenile and criminal justice system are heard, and that efforts to overhaul the system include their participation at every stage.

RJ Hubs

The Community Justice for Youth Institute is working with several community and faith-based organizations to promote the healthy development of youth on probation and safe re-entry of youth diverted from the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). Working in collaboration with Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, the Southwest Youth Collaboration and FLY (Fearless Leading by the Youth), our goal is to support the development of RJ Hubs throughout Chicago.

The RJ Hub is a community organization or entity that serves as the base/hub for promoting relationships between youth and the community. In this model, the RJ Hub will: 1) receive young people on probation or released from the JTDC, 2) meet with the young person and begin to build a relationship, 3) conduct peacemaking circles with the youth, their family, and other supporters as appropriate, 4) work with the young person to identify needs and create a plan for moving forward, 5) assist the young person in implementing their plan, and 6) through leadership skills training, help young people become advocates on their own behalf. The RJ Hub will serve as a link to other resources and support systems, and will accompany the young person who is in need. Accompaniment is a critical component, as it includes on-going mentoring, helping a young person engage the needed resources, and remaining with the youth to ensure that appropriate connections are made.

Steps toward the development of the RJ Hub:
Target a specific Courtroom (Calendar) and further develop the model as a working RJ Hub in an organization that is already working with the youth in a restorative manner. The RJ Hub would engage probation, juvenile court judge, police, schools, etc. in the understanding of restorative justice practices. Continue dialogue with other organizations in order to develop other RJ Hub in other communities/court calendars. Offer restorative justice trainings and support to organizations as they work toward implementing restorative justice in their organization. Develop a networking of the RJ Hubs that would allow for an ongoing sharing of knowledge and resources. We recognize that there are many other organizations and churches that are working with families and youth involved in the juvenile justice system. The RJ Hub model would allow for further development of relationships between these organizations/churches and enhance their ability to seek out, develop and coordinate resources.


Click on the link above to watch our Restorative Justice video.

This seven minute video, Youth and Police Healing Circles: Illuminating the Power of Restorative Justice, provides a brief overview of how peace circles can be used working with young people involved with the justice system.

Peace Circles are used with youth and families involved in the criminal justice system to resolve conflicts and address issues in schools, communities and workplace settings.

"Nothing else in the world...not all the armies...is so powerful as an idea whose time has come."--Victor Hugo