Restoring Justice to a Broken System

The Cook County justice system is broken. Its policies perpetuate the cycle of violence plaguing our communities by draining our limited resources and devastating people’s lives. Instead of rehabilitating individuals who need support and treatment we impose costly punishments that often lead to isolation and despair. This is what the Cook County justice system did for Russell Cunningham, a CRS leader and member of the Reclaim Campaign from First Baptist Congregational Church. 

Russell was arrested for a non-violent offense and was held in the Cook County Jail for six months because he was not able to post bail. This ordeal cost him his job and strained relationships with his family. Russell did not need jail; he needed substance abuse treatment and a supportive community. Russell needed a restorative justice alternative like the re-entry peace hub he is now helping to facilitate in Little Village and North Lawndale. Russell was never given this option, but that experience inspired him to fight so that others who have made mistakes will be able to repair their relationships and reintegrate into society.

The Reclaim Campaign, launched in November 2013, is a collaborative effort among Community Renewal Society, Gamaliel of Metro Chicago, and Southside Together Organizing for Power. The goal of the Reclaim Campaign is to reduce violence by moving limited financial resources away from overly punitive criminal justice systems that perpetuate cycles of violence into community-based restorative justice, mental health, and substance abuse alternatives that rehabilitate lives and make our communities safer. 

In order to accomplish this goal, we are demanding that stakeholders in the Cook County justice system – President Toni Preckwinkle, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Sheriff Tom Dart, and Chief Judge Timothy Evans – implement reforms that create new opportunities for diversion and significantly reduce the population of the over-crowded and resource-draining Cook County Jail.

On Thursday, July 24, 2014 the Reclaim Campaign will achieve an important milestone. Timothy Evans, Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, will attend a public meeting with hundreds of community leaders from the Reclaim Campaign to declare his support for our goals. Gaining his commitment is essential because, as Chief Judge, Evans has the power to:

1) Create a new restorative justice pilot program with churches and community-based organizations

2) Implement reforms to bond court and pre-trial services that will reduce the number of detainees in the Cook County Jail

3) Expand current mental health and substance abuse diversion opportunities.

Judge Evans’ public commitment to our communities and the Reclaim Campaign is an important step to reforming the Cook County criminal justice system and addressing the root causes of violence in our neighborhoods. 

Rev. Curtiss DeYoung recently reminded the CRS Leadership Council that “The Power of the Prophet Never Dies.” In order to transform one of the largest and most punitive criminal justice systems in the country we need your prophetic voice on Thursday, July 24. Stand with us and let Judge Evans know we will hold him accountable to working with us to reclaim our communities. By joining together we can show our Cook County leaders that making our communities safer must be a top priority.  

Join us at New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church on Thursday, July 24 from 7-8:30 pm and help us reduce violence in our communities. We can’t do this without you. Register now. Together we will reclaim justice, restore lives, and rebuild our communities!

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