This blog post is written by Marjorie Flores, communications intern with Mikva Challenge.
“What does a juvenile justice system that is responsive to youth look like?” That is the question that our youth from the Juvenile Justice Council (JJC) will be tackling this summer, in hopes to make a recommendation that will improve the system for young people who come in contact with the juvenile justice system.
This week our Council met with several judges from the Cook County Juvenile Justice Division, to gather information that could help them draft a set of recommendations on how to make the juvenile justice system more responsive to youth. In preparation for their guest speakers, the young people, many of whom have had contact with the justice system, did research on the role of a judge and the differences between a punitive approach to justice versus a rehabilitative one.
The first speaker of the week was Judge Toomin, who was kind enough to discuss the organization of the juvenile justice system as well as his thoughts on the current state of it, to which he responded, “ Do I think the system is broken? No, I don’t but I do believe, as with anything, that there is always room for improvement.”
Andrew Berman, a former judge of the Cook County Justice Division also spoke to our youth this week. Mr. Berman was very enthusiastic to meet with our youth emphasizing several times that, “kids don’t want to hear adults speak, Its very easy for us to sound harsh and boring. Me- I’d rather listen to what the kids have to say and how they feel.” Berman, like Judge Toomin agreed that the system can be improved starting with its parole officers because according to him, “They have the most contact with the juveniles, therefore they have the biggest impact.”
Lastly, Judge Sheehan of the Cook County CIrcuit Court, and also a key figure behind the Restorative Court opening in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, came to speak with our youth. Judge Sheehan was perhaps the most progressive and candid speaker of the week, sharing her thoughts on everything from her life to racism and police brutality and even the current punitive approach to juvenile justice. When asked what inspired her to become a judge in the first place, Sheehan responded, “I always had a sense of justice, I hated bullies and oppression and I firmly believe that if you see injustice taking place, you should speak up!”
Although every one of these judges came from different backgrounds and have different approaches to justice, they all agreed on one thing and that is that the current juvenile justice system needs some improvement, It is our hope that our youth, in help with the knowledge and suggestions from these Judges, can come up with a proposal that will help make the system more responsive to the needs of young people!