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New IL Law Affects People in "Restorative-Justice" Programs

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Monday, July 19, 2021   

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A bill signed into law in Springfield protects the participants in restorative-justice practices from having what they do or say used against them in court.

Restorative justice is a voluntary alternative to the criminal legal system. It brings together offenders and victims to find ways to repair the harm done, and the methods vary from group meetings or peacemaking circles, to mediation-style communications.

Madeleine Behr, policy manager for the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, said legal privilege will make these practices more viable options for survivors.

"Now, without this privilege, that really deters people who have caused harm from being open and honest in the process about what actually happened," Behr explained. "And for a survivor, so many people are looking for an apology, a reckoning, an admission of guilt."

Behr added the criminal legal system can be traumatizing for survivors, who may have to convince prosecutors of what happened to them or testify in court. Public opinion polls show more than 60% of Americans support restorative-justice policies.

Behr pointed out there is a common misperception criminal-justice reform and victim advocacy are oppositional. But she argued restorative justice is an example of the crucial collaboration between reformers and advocates for victims' rights.

"It not only offers perpetrators to take accountability and recognize the harm that they've caused in a different way, but it also really expands options for survivors, who are looking for some form of accountability and probably don't want to get it from the criminal legal system, for a whole host of reasons," Behr stated.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker also signed laws to end deception in interrogations of juveniles, to allow state's attorneys to petition for re-sentencing of offenders, and create a task force to study ways to reduce the prison population.

Sen. Robert Peters, D-Chicago, who sponsored the restorative-justice bill, said the laws are important steps, and even more can be done to ensure public safety.

"Where everyone has a roof over their head, a good school, a good job, a sense of neighborly love and community, that is real public safety for all," Peters stressed.


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