Sara Dixon Spivy, the Cook County public defender who was recently elected to the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education, was in Springfield last week to testify before the Illinois Senate’s bipartisan Committee on Restorative Justice, which is chaired by state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13th).
“The discipline systems in our public high schools need to give students — both accused rule-breakers and victims — a voice,” Spivy stated in a press release put out by the Illinois Senate Democratic staff. “Reforming the system at the school level may prevent some children from ever becoming criminal defendants. Restorative justice is humane, efficient and, in the end, simple common sense.”
The restorative justice model is predicated less on punishment and strict zero-tolerance than on conflict resolution, particularly in the form of “peace circles,” where participants dissolve interpersonal tension through respectful dialogue and therapeutic methods of conflict mitigation.
The theme of criminal justice reform has been a major point of discussion among Springfield lawmakers this year, particularly in the wake of significant budget cuts that may hamper the state’s ability to handle overcrowded prisons, overworked guards and the increasing per capita costs of housing prisoners.
During an April 23 interview, Spivy said that restorative justice has become a major initiative in the Cook County Public Defender’s Office since the recent appointment of Amy Campanelli to the post. Spivy said her overarching concern was how to persuade the state to begin funding restorative justice programs more broadly — particularly in schools with the fewest resources, but the most need for the programs.
“I’m really hoping the state starts funding some of these programs and helping schools to explore this, because not every school has the money [Oak Park and River Forest High School] has,” Spivy said. “We’re lucky.”
Restorative justice was a major campaign theme for Spivy in the run-up to last April’s election, in which she garnered the most votes among the five candidates running for the board’s three open seats. She said she hopes to bring her advocacy for restorative justice to the board.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Restorative Justice is state Sen. Kwame Raoul (13th), not state Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th). Ford chairs the House committee on Restorative Justice. This article has been updated to reflect that correction.