Children and Family Justice Center awarded 2013 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions

February 28, 2013

The extraordinary accomplishments of the Children and Family Justice Center were recognized by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which today awarded the Center a 2013 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions in the amount of $750,000.

Video: The Children and Family Justice Center

“This award recognizes the Center’s decades of work to improve the justice system for some of our most vulnerable citizens,” said Dean Daniel Rodriguez. “Center faculty, through their tireless representation and advocacy, have changed juvenile justice in Illinois. We celebrate this award because it honors the Center’s many accomplishments and will allow them to expand their efforts in the community.”

Children and Family Justice Center student Julie Lee (JD expected 2013), client Laurence, student Brendan Mooney (JD expected 2014) and Center Director Julie Biehl exit Cook County Juvenile Court after winning Laurence’s case.

For twenty years, the Center has fought for and stood with children in conflict with the law. With a focus on zealous individual advocacy and systemic policy reform, the Center seeks to protect the rights of children and to change the ways in which the systems controlling the lives of these children too often ultimately fail them.

“On the one hand, we are teachers who are devoted to helping our students develop the skills they will need as lawyers,” said Center director Julie Biehl. “And on the other, we are advocates on the front lines of the Illinois juvenile justice system who work on cases where access to justice is compromised. This award will allow us to expand our advocacy on issues ranging from extreme sentencing of youth, fitness to stand trial, and the urgent need to assist incarcerated young people transition back into the community, while at the same time teaching and mentoring the next generation of lawyers and policy advocates.”

The Center monitors its caseload for opportunities to help improve the law on an ongoing basis. It collects data and documents its clients’ experiences to buttress and humanize its policy initiatives. In recent years, the Center’s casework-informed policy initiatives have included efforts to end the juvenile death penalty, raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, and address the harsh collateral consequences facing youth with system involvement.

One initiative, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, involved the creation of a statewide juvenile defender resource center and network to provide juvenile defense attorneys with opportunities for leadership, education, training, and mentoring. The Center is also committed to informing and empowering youth and their families through its Know Your Rights publication and trainings.

The MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions was established in 1997 to help ensure the long-term sustainability of organizations the Foundation deemed to be particularly effective at providing new approaches to persistent problems.

“From New York to New Delhi, these extraordinary organizations are making a real difference in the lives of people and communities,” said MacArthur President Robert Gallucci. “MacArthur recognizes their importance and impact, and we hope our investment will help ensure that they continue to thrive and to increase their reach in the future.”

The grant is a recognition of past successes and is designed to be an investment in the Center’s future. The MacArthur Foundation does not seek or accept nominations for this award. To qualify, organizations must demonstrate exceptional creativity and effectiveness, have reached a critical or strategic point in their development, show strong leadership and stable financial management, have previously received MacArthur support, and engage in work central to one of MacArthur’s core programs.

The Children and Family Justice Center was one of 13 organizations recognized by the Foundation in 2013. The Center will use the award to establish an endowment and to expand the Center’s public information outreach initiatives.