Mansfield Institute aims to get students involved in restorative justice with new court

By Lauren Grimaldi

Staff Reporter


Heather Damage and Nancy Michaels discuss plans for Cook County’s first Restorative Justice Court. Photo by Lauren Grimaldi

In a legal system that can do more harm than good to young people convicted of crimes, it is reasonable to look for an alternative to the harsh realities of prison.

Cook County’s first Restorative Justice Community Court offers an ensuing process unlike what many may see as common forms of reaction to perpetrators of crime in our legal system and Roosevelt’s Mansfield Institute will play a large part in the implementation of it.  

Nancy Michaels, associate director of the Mansfield Institute, offered more insight into what exactly restorative justice entails.

“It is a shift in the way we view justice from social control to social engagement,” Michaels said. “In the case of the Restorative Justice Community Court, it will be a way to work with offenders and victims to repair the harm and the relationship.”

Michaels noted that the process will involve educating the offender on why what they did was wrong and give them ways to correct that behavior, while giving the victim a greater voice than is seen in the typical system.

The Mansfield Institute sees this as a major win for the process of how we treat those who have committed crimes, especially regarding juveniles.

“We are always looking for alternatives to lead our young people down a path towards success versus continuous incarceration. Through that we learned a lot about restorative justice as an alternative. We work with Judge Colleen Sheehan in a number of ways. We helped her build this vision and it’s come to a point where it actually will happen.”

It will take until January 2017 before the court is officially established in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Michaels noted that there will be much involvement from the Mansfield Institute throughout the entire process from planning to actual implementation. The Mansfield Institute has received a $24,000 grant to help them plan the new court from the Polk Foundation.

“Moving forward we are going to be the evaluator on this project. Once the project is put into place we will be engaging in the analysis of how it goes and if it can be replicated,” Michaels said.

The Mansfield Institute would also love to see students get involved in learning and working with the restorative justice process.

“Mansfield is also creating a restorative university. There have been over a hundred students trained in restorative justice practices. They’ve worked in public schools through transformational learning courses,” program director Heather Dalmage said.

Michaels added that the Institute wants to involve students in the process in any way that they can as it will be an innovative process in of itself.

“We want students to know that this is really a way for Roosevelt students to engage in and change the world,” Dalmage said.

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