Victory for Restorative Practices in Springfield

Victory for Restorative Practices in Springfield

Patrick Keenan-Devlin, Executive Director

Five years ago, Cardinal Blaze Cupich called on the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago (“CLG”) to foster restorative justice practices, amplifying and safeguarding the transformational restorative work being carried out by Father Dave Kelly at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. Restorative justice invites community members who had caused harm or who had been harmed to identify and repair harm, as well as strengthen community ties by focusing on the needs and obligations of all members.

Betsy Clarke, President/CEO of the Juvenile Justice Initiative, invited me to attend one of the initial meetings convened by the CLG to explore what role the legal community could play in fostering restorative practices. Exasperatingly, Judge Stuart Katz of the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Juvenile Justice Division kicked off that meeting by saying, “I started a restorative justice program in my courtroom several years ago and at every turn, the Public Defenders thwarted its effectiveness. They refused to allow their clients to participate, out of fear that their clients might incriminate themselves…”

I recall sitting across the table from Judge Katz and thinking, “I wouldn’t allow my clients to participate in a restorative justice practice either. It’s too risky… What if they admitted to the crime in question or some other crime for that matter?”

Judge Katz then proposed a solution: “If we want to foster restorative justice practices,” he said “we have to bring along the defense bar… We must somehow shield what offenders say during a restorative justice practice from being used against them later on.” 

For months following that initial meeting, I partnered with Judge Katz, along with the Moran Center’s Fellow Andrew Sowle, in drafting an Illinois Supreme Court Rule that would later serve as the template for our statewide legislation to confer an evidentiary privilege between participants of a restorative justice practice for what is said and done during a restorative justice practice, making whatever is disclosed during a practice privileged in the same way that a conversation between an attorney and client is shielded from disclosure in court.

In speaking with national experts on restorative justice, like Professor Shannon Sliva of the University of Denver and Professor Sandra Pavelka of Florida Gulf Coast University, we learned that in instances where states, either through legislation or court rule institute restorative justice practices or programming, privilege and confidentiality protections often appear in initial policy drafts but are then later scrapped during the sausage-making process due to institutional players’ fears that restorative justice practices might be employed for nefarious purposes. If successful in providing an evidentiary privilege to restorative justice participants, either through court rule or statute, Illinois would be a national pioneer.

Following five years of inspiring teamwork by advocates, on July 15th, Governor Pritzker signed our proposal – Senate Bill 64 – into law. The new law, sponsored by State Senator Robert Peters and State Representative Carol Ammons and shepherded by the Juvenile Justice Initiative through the legislature, historically throws off the chill of self-incrimination as a disincentive for authentic participation in a restorative justice practice.

As the legislation states, we now hope that “residents of this State [will] employ restorative justice practices, not only in justiciable matters but in all aspects of life and law.” And that’s the goal – to seed restorative justice everywhere and in doing so radically transforming systems and communities. Hopefully, by affording this privilege – that what is said and done during a restorative justice practice cannot be later used against participants in a court of law – restorative justice practices will be more widely employed by our courts, in our schools, in our families, and in our communities.