Chicago is well-known for being a beautiful city, its wind chill, and being the home of the great Michael Jordan. The city of Chicago is also well-known for being extremely dangerous in many areas. Like many large cities, there is a major problem with juvenile delinquency and there is a need to address it. Every day there are more and more organizations, both new and old working to change the system that is more punitive and less rehabilitative than it should be when dealing with youth.
One of the up and coming initiatives for addressing criminal behavior among young people is Restorative Justice. Instead of looking at the crime as an offense against the state and punitively throwing the offender into jail, the system would look at the crime at the victim/offender/community level. There would be a dialogue between the victim, the offender, and the community affected that would require the offender to take responsibility for the harm caused. Some of the faces of this would be an apology or community service depending on the nature of the crime.
The Restorative Justice of Project NIA has been involved in this fight in Chicago since 2009. They are working to educate people about the current system and its failings; advocating for change and researching the effects of the system. Project NIA’s three stated goals are to empower community members to become leaders in this fight, to create effective alternatives to the criminal legal systems that are community-based, and to put an end to juvenile incarceration.
One of the most impressive things about Project NIA is that they are addressing the issue from so many different angles. Through research and workshops, Project NIA educates people about the criminal justice system. The research is used to collaborate with other communities who may be interested in effecting the same change in their own cities as well as stakeholders in Chicago. They have developed a curriculum that utilizes popular education to teach communities about the criminal justice system. Project NIA’s research is also addressing the issues of suspensions in school due to zero tolerance policies as well as some alternatives to calling the police when it comes to youth.