Children and Family Justice Center

“Building a Safe Chicago” report: Attack root causes of violence with a comprehensive crime prevention plan

CFJC and more than two dozen community groups and criminal justice reform advocates have issued a report urging Chicago’s elected leaders to reject reactionary and unproven crime fighting policies and instead attack the root causes of violence with a comprehensive crime prevention plan.

Building a Safe Chicago argues against mandatory minimum prison sentencing schemes and in favor of a comprehensive plan that should include:

  • Expansion of community-based programs to improve social conditions that have led to increased demand for illegal weapon possession;

  • Reduction in illegal handgun availability by regulating gun shop owners;

  • Reduction in gun possession charges by identifying and addressing the causes of the repeat offenses;

  • Enactment of the reforms advocated by Mayor Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force; and

  • Economic development initiatives in high poverty neighborhoods.

“An intelligent and equitable public safety strategy will realign public spending priorities to channel resources into strengthening — not suppressing — citizens most at risk, while paying special attention to reducing opportunity gaps across all public services,” according to the report. “Doing so will create a smarter, healthier, more stable and productive Illinois – and a safer Chicago.”

PDF of Building a Safe Chicago

Summary of Building a Safe Chicago

News release

CFJC and CHA in Partnership to Help Youth Succeed

The Children and Family Justice Center and the Chicago Housing Authority have begun to work together to help youth involved in the juvenile justice system achieve successful transitions to adulthood.

Selected by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development to receive a Juvenile Re-entry Assistance Program (JRAP) grant, CFJC and the CHA will assist eligible youth with expunging, sealing, and/or correcting juvenile or adult records and will provide counseling about legal rights and obligations in searching for employment, reinstating revoked or suspended drivers’ licenses, obtaining readmission to school, and creating or modifying child support orders and other family law matters.

Julie Biehl, CFJC Director, stressed the importance of helping young people move on from youthful mistakes. “Even children who are arrested and not convicted have a juvenile record,” Biehl said. “Those records follow them into adulthood and can seriously undermine their efforts to build lives for themselves by limiting their opportunities for school, housing, and jobs.”

Read more about the JRAP grant HERE.

REPORT: “Burdened for Life: The Myth of Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Expungement in Illinois”

Written in partnership with the Children and Family Law Center, this report by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission explains that Illinois laws and policies governing the treatment of court and arrest records of youth “threaten public safety, produce substantial unnecessary costs, and impede young people’s ability to transition to productive adulthood."

Although state law long has emphasized the principle that a youth’s mistakes should not brand that child for life, Illinois youth have been harmed by the erosion of confidentiality protections and the extreme difficulty and expense of erasing a record through the expungement process, according to the report.

In Illinois, tens of thousands of juveniles are arrested each year, and the largest majority of those arrests by far are for non-violent offenses.  Over the last decade, only three of every 1,000 arrests – less than one-third of one percent of juvenile arrests – were expunged in Illinois, the study determined.

Read the full report HERE.

UPDATE: Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice announces prison in Kewanee will close.

On May 10, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice announced it “will move forward with closure of IYC-Kewanee in recognition of national best practices based around high-intensity individualized services for high-risk youth in its facilities.”

At a March hearing conducted by the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, In March, Stephanie Kollmann, Policy Director at the Children and Family Law Center, testified at  in support of closing the Kewanee prison.

“As a result of visionary leadership and many dedicated staff expending their best efforts, IDJJ has made incredible strides in recent years. However, the incarceration model provides such a hindrance that IDJJ continues to struggle to meet its basic obligations to youth,” Kollman said. “In order for any juvenile justice system to be effective, it is critical to create a culture that supports rehabilitation and maturation, because most youth who commit even very serious crimes will soon cease offending as they grow up.Yet prison-like institutions, even if they are well-staffed, adequately resourced, performing optimally, and aimed at only the highest-risk youth, do not meet this requirement.”

Read the full testimony HERE.

Read Kollman's recent commentary on this topic HERE.


The Children and Family Justice Center has issued a special report, “Rehabilitative Release of Youth from Illinois Prisons,” with recommendations for removal of bureaucratic barriers to the successful reentry of youth to their home communities.

“Illinois is out of step with the rest of the nation and with what juvenile justice experts and research have determined are best practices for successfully transitioning youth from prison back to home communities,” according to the report. “To advance public safety by correcting this failing and improving opportunities for youth to have successful lives, Illinois should remove responsibility for youth prison release decisions from the Illinois Prisoner Review Board. Instead, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice should be empowered to make the decisions using timely, responsible release procedures supported by due process protections.”

Read the full report HERE.

Read related commentary in the Chicago Sun-Times HERE.

About the Children and Famly Justice Center

Founded in 1992, the Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) is a comprehensive children's law office and part of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law. At the CFJC, attorneys and law students work together to promote justice for children, adolescents, and their families through direct legal representation, policy advocacy and law reform.

Providing access to justice for unrepresented youth is a core mission of the CFJC. Each year, CFJC faculty, staff and students represent young people on a wide range of matters, from delinquency to immigration and asylum to cases addressing harsh sentencing practices or the collateral consequences youth face after coming into contact with the law. Oftentimes, the CFJC gives its young clients access to a lawyer when they otherwise would not have one. More...

2013 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions

Models for Change

The Children and Family Justice Center is humbled to announce that we are 1 of 13 winners for the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions in 2013. You can read our story, check out the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's coverage, and take a look at a video about our team's hard work! To make a gift to CFJC, please visit the Support Us page.