Florida juvenile court Judge Irene Sullivan spent most of her day in Evanston discussing her passion: juvenile justice. On May 18 Judge Sullivan was in the Chicago area speaking and promoting her book “Raised by the Courts,” and took a detour to Evanston to hear peer jurors from Evanston Township High School discuss their work and meet with members of Restorative Justice Evanston.
Judge Sullivan said she was compelled to write her book after seeing how complicated the lives of children are.
The volunteer peer jury system at ETHS serves as an alternative form of punishment that allows students who are trained in restorative justice principles to work with certain offenders – also ETHS students – to find an acceptable resolution and avoid possible suspensions. Together the students come to an agreement to create a positive goal out of the behavior.
Listening to the peer jurors at ETHS, said Judge Sullivan, was a “very powerful and moving experience. In my 12 years of being a family and juvenile judge, I have never had such a powerful experience. … I can see how students feel included with school issues being handled at school.
“I love the way [ETHS is handling problems] because school suspensions should be against the law. … That’s why I think the restorative justice/peer jury model [is good] … I’m taking it back to our city [Stetson, Fla.].”
“I don’t think you have to be tough on kids or soft on kids. I think you have to be smart on kids,” said Judge Sullivan.
While praising ETHS and RJE for their programs, she said the main challenge for RJE is communicating to those not involved with the juvenile justice system about how it works.
“They need to give the community facts, evidence [of their success]. … People in the community not involved in the juvenile justice system have widely varying ideas about [how to treat kids] … For some reason, educated people can be harder on kids than on adults.