Children and Family Justice Center

NEWS: Court Cuts Will Cost Cook County

Widespread budget cuts contemplated by the Cook County Board of Commissioners could reverse the county’s progress toward a smarter justice system.

In a letter to commissioners, Juliet Sorensen, Director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, and Julie L. Biehl, Director of the Children and Family Justice Center, stated: “When resources are suddenly scarce, it is often legacy systems that have the power to preserve their place in the system, while carefully-nurtured reforms are pruned away. This is especially counterproductive when those reforms not only bring better outcomes, but do so at a lower overall cost than traditional approaches.”

The letter acknowledges that the county has “many worthy funding priorities and few appetizing revenue options, but the county can’t afford to end much-needed progress and projections in our criminal courts.”

Read the full letter.

NEWS: Time to Abolish Mandatory Sex Offender Registry

kollmannStephanie L. Kollmann, CFJC Policy Director, recently urged a state advisory task force to recommend an end to the state’s mandatory uniform sex offender registry requirements, including restrictions on where people on the registry are permitted to live.

In testimony before the Illinois Sex Offenses and Sex Offender Registration Task Force, Kollmann emphasized that decades of experience and research about sex registries has proven that mandating registration for everyone with sexual offenses does not improve public safety and can actually endanger the public by distrupting family stability, housing, and employment.

Not only is the registry unfair and unproven as a public safety tool, the state has made it exceeding difficult and expensive — and in many cases impossible — for youth to petition successful for removal from the registry requirements. “With over 2,500 young people on the juvenile registry and growing, only about 1% petition for removal each year – despite overwhelming evidence that maintaining youth on the registry is bad public policy,” Kollmann said.

“The juvenile removal statute is currently built ‘upside down,’ as though registries and restrictions are grounded in sound research and evidence and the problem is merely that, for a select few, they are applied too broadly,” she said. “Thus, the burden is shifted to a small number of presumably-exceptional youth to gather their records, obtain an assessment, organize and file a petition, and argue their case in court – all without access to a court-appointed attorney. This process takes about a year and a half to complete and represents hundreds of hours of work by costly professionals – risk evaluators and attorneys – work equivalent to well over $10,000 per petition.”

Read her testimony » 

NEWS: Shobha L. Mahadev Comments on Juvenile Life Without Parole

MahadevThe “Morning Shift” on WBEZ recently reported on the case of Addolfo Davis, a teen sentenced to life in prison in 1990. After a review of his case and rehabilitation, a court soon will consider allowing him to leave prison in 2020 at the age of 44.

Host Jennifer White asked Shobha L. Mahadev, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at CFJC, to explain the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama ruling that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders and comment on the impact on Addolfo Davis and many others with life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles.

“Like Addolfo, a lot of the young people serving the sentence were the product of trauma, violence, abuse in their homes and communities,” Mahadev said. That doesn’t excuse their actions, but it gives us a context which is exactly what the United States Supreme Court has asked us to look at. The Court has asked us to consider who a young person is in terms of their development and all of the science we have learned in the last decade or so. Young people, we know, are unable to foresee consequences in the way that adults are able to do. They act with more impulse. They’re more susceptible to peer pressure. They’re unable to extricate themselves from really difficult circumstances in their families and communities.”

Listen to the full Morning Shift program. The interview with Mahadev begins at the 8:20 mark.

We are celebrating the 25th anniversary of CFJC.  This is our story. 


Many thanks to everyone who helped make our 25th anniversary celebration a big success!  Find photos from the event »

NEWS: Juvenile Expungement Legislation Enacted

Illinois has enacted landmark juvenile justice reforms called for in a research report written in partnership with the Children and Family Justice Center and released by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.

Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed House Bill 3817 to streamline the process of expunging juvenile arrests. The legislation was advocated by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and was sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, and Sen. Michael E. Hastings, D-Tinley Park.  

The 2016 report, “Burdened for Life: The Myth of Juvenile Record Confidentiality and Expungement in Illinois,” found that the expungement process is so cumbersome and expensive that only three in 1,000 juvenile arrests in Illinois are expunged. HB 3817 would improve public safety and make it easier for youth to find a job, obtain housing, and pursue and education.

“Loose confidentiality laws and arrest records that follow kids for life make it extremely difficult for youth to overcome their mistakes – can cause families to become homeless, can stall or end a youth’s education and can make every road to a job a dead end,” said Julie L. Biehl, Director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. “This broken system has made our neighborhoods less safe, but this new, balanced law will eliminate some of the burdens for young people attempting to leave their past behind them and lead productive lives.”

Find fact sheet about HB 3817, which is now Public Act 100-0285 »

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

CFJC and more than four 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

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 Pritzker 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...

CFJC MacArthur Award

The Children and Family Justice Center is a recipient of a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Please 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.