Media & Speaking

Restorative Justice In Illinois

In 2021, the Illinois General Assembly amended the Code of Civil Procedure to add a new section on restorative justice practice. Rather than make justice punitive on an offender, restorative justice seeks to help offenders understand the social context of their crime, repair the harm done, and empower victims and communities affected by the crime.

The Institute of People with Criminal Records supports and welcomes partnerships to facilitate restorative justice in Illinois

The belief behind restorative justice is that conflict and crime result from a breakdown of relationships and a vague sense of community among residents. Without intervention, this causes harm or damage to persons and their communities. With a front-row seat to how crime has impacted their communities, offenders, victims, and residents of a neighborhood now have the capacity to define, identify, and resolve underlying issues and concerns through restorative justice. Doing this is not only practical but also, it is sustainable and reduces the rate of reoffending in a community.

What Methods Does Restorative Justice Use?

The Center for Justice and Reconciliation outlines the four tenets of restorative justice programs viz-a-viz:

  • Inclusion of all parties
  • Meeting with the other side
  • Making amends for the offense
  • Reintegration of offenders into their communities 

Restorative justice programs incorporate these tenets to develop methods for approaching a suitable project. All methods require the willing participation of the offender, the victim, and the people of that community. Often time, a facilitator is involved in bringing the parties together and facilitating the process. The methods restorative justice programs typically use to achieve set objectives include: 

  • Victim-Offender Mediation
  • Restorative Circle Approach
  • Community Panel Model

Victim-Offender Mediation (VOM)

Here, restorative justice focuses on the process and outcome of one-on-one meetings and dialogue between a victim and the offender in a non-threatening atmosphere. Generally, a mediator is available to help the parties understand their relationship, the impact of the harm caused, and restorative solutions. VOM is typically applicable in misdemeanor offenses, juvenile crimes, and property crimes. 

Restorative Circle Approach/Conferencing 

This method welcomes participation from the offender, the victim, their supporters, and residents of the community where the crime happened. Generally, conferencing is confidential, but participants can decide whether to share the content and outcome of the discussion with the judge presiding over the case. 

Community Panel Model

This method has proven to be most successful with at-risk youth.

Here, a panel of community residents who have received training in communication and listening skills work with youths to remedy the harm done. The panel also identifies and takes steps to prevent the circumstances that caused the offense in the first place. The panel conducts a meeting and invites the victim to share his/her experience of the crime and also propose a plan for helping the juvenile make amends. All of these become useful resources that help communities develop policies and strategies to tackle crime. 

Ultimately, the panel’s goal is to work with the youth and help him/her commit to a rehabilitation contract. He/she regularly attends school, makes amends to the victim, and reconnects with the community through active participation in community service. A designated member of the community panel works with the juvenile during this contract period. 

Benefits of Restorative Justice

When applied correctly, restorative justice has the following benefits to victims, offenders, and their communities:

  • When used as a diversion program, restorative justice helps reduce the costs of administering criminal justice and the judiciary’s caseload;
  • Unlike traditional criminal justice, where the state seeks to punish the offender and leaves getting civil compensation to the victim, restorative justice can provide a sense of fairness to a victim with resorting to civil lawsuits;
  • In many cases, participating in a restorative justice program has helped reduce victims’ post-traumatic stress symptoms and costs of getting help for resulting mental health issues;
  • Restorative justice practices provide help to parties on an individual level. Thus, no two programs and projects are the same because restorative justice tackles projects on a case by case basis;
  • Restorative justice allows offenders to apologize and make amends for their actions;
  • Victims of a crime can talk with the offender and get closure. In many cases, this reduces internal conflict associated with a victim’s desire for revenge against an offender;
  • The methods used also bring neighborhoods and communities together to answer complex questions about crime in the society;
  • The process can also provide an opportunity for communities to identify and develop solutions to address issues responsible for an uptick in crime;

Limitations of Restorative Justice

While restorative justice is a helpful tool, it does not work in every situation. For one, restorative justice does not answer all the questions nor solve all the problems victims and communities. Also, it does not apply to every offender or situation. The following are some of the limitations of restorative justice and restorative justice projects:  

  • Not every offender cares about the consequences of their crimes or the hurt caused to their victims and communities;
  • Not every victim, offender, or community is ready to participate in restorative justice;
  • While effective, the methods used in restorative justice are often time-consuming;
  • The projects also involve long training of facilitators and mediators 
  • Applying restorative justice does not guarantee quantifiable impact from the onset; 
  • Facilitators have to set criteria for offenses that are appropriate for intervention;