Cook County Criminal Courts Restorative Justice program helps non-violent offenders find jobs

CHICAGO (WLS) -- If you can't pass a background check, jobs options are limited. Some in the Cook County Criminal Courts system saw an opportunity to help non-violent offenders find a new path so they don't end up back in court.

The news was encouraging.

"It feels great, it feels real great," said Charles Taylor.

Taylor did well on a job interview; so well that he will go on to the next phase.

He would have never gotten this far with a pending drug case on his record.

But Taylor is a graduate of Cook County's Restorative Justice Community Court program in North Lawndale.

"I feel like it's a second chance. Your whole life can change, it can be taken away with a few wrong decisions," said Taylor. "I definitely feel better knowing that I have the opportunity to provide for my family."

Non-violent offenders between the ages of 18-26 can have charges dropped and records expunged if they complete the program.

The Restorative Justice program offers job skills, education assistance as well support for past traumas and guidance in making better choices in the future. But the program begins with the young person first acknowledging their wrong, then repairing the damage or harm.

Wednesday marked the official ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Englewood Restorative Justice Court.

"Punishment doesn't work all the time. We also have to be rehabilitative," said Amy Campanelli, Cook County Public Defender.

"Then they can apply for scholarships and jobs and dont have to write down convicted felon anymore," said Timothy Evans, Circuit Court of Cook County, Chief Judge.

Although Taylor was never convicted, an arrest would come up on background checks.

Now with a diploma, a fork lift operator's license and a clean record, his past is behind him and ahead are job opportunities within his reach.
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