The City’s Administrative Adjudication hearing process has been pretty much on an island of its own in recent years but that’s likely to change soon, particularly in regard to juveniles.

Nearly two years in the making, aldermen approved a resolution and ordinance at their May 28 City Council meeting in support of employing administrative adjudication as an alternative to the Cook County court system, where young adults can get tagged with a criminal record for minor offenses.

Along with the action, Council members approved a change in City Code, clearing the way for officials to use restorative justice practices to find solutions, bringing together minors and members of the community – including victims – to repair any harm done.

The actions date to April of 2017 when Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty established the Alternatives to Arrest Committee. Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, was named as chairman of the group, whose goal was to find alternatives to arrest for misdemeanors and reduce the number of adults who have a difficult time finding a job later in life.

Speaking at the May 28 meeting, Ald. Braithwaite recalled some other developments played a role in the group’s formation. These included a University of North Carolina study into racial disparities on traffic stops. The study found that the City of Evanston had the highest rate among the communities studied, of Black drivers subjected to post traffic stop searches, as compared to Whites.

“At the same time we had another emotional situation with a young juvenile arrested at the police station,” Ald. Braithwaite said.

With the legislation emerging from those events, “I will tell you,” Ald. Braithwaite said, “in my seven years sitting on the Council, this was probably one of the more meaningful pieces of legislation that we’ve turned into policy and that’s going to have an impact for generations.”

He offered special thanks to aldermanic members of the committee -– Aldermen Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward; Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; and Donald Wilson, 4th Ward –  as well as well as community members, and representatives from the city’s Police and Parks and Recreation departments, among those assisting the group.

“This was really two years of really just going through a lot of data and spending a lot of time to make careful changes,” Ald. Braithwaite said.

A number of those changes will be incorporated into the proceedings of the city’s administrative adjudication system. The city established the system in 2000, pushing for the transfer of violations of city ordinances from the Cook County Circuit Court to be held in the city court.

Patrick Keenan-Devlin, a member of the Alternatives to Arrest Committee and Executive Director of the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, highlighted some of the features of the new legislation at the May 6 Human Services Committee meeting.

“The first is, it gives adults the option to opt for full community service, as opposed to what is often a daunting fine imposed by the administrative hearing division,” Mr. Keenan-Devlin said.

In cases where a minor receives a charging document alleging a violation of the City Code, the Administrative Hearing Division will maintain the confidentiality of any records generated from the charging document.

The City’s Division of Administrative Adjudication is required to provide separate and private hearings for minors.

Currently, cases involving juveniles are lumped in with the parking, building code and fire violations, health and sanitation concerns which come before the city court.

The legislation includes a provision allowing a minor to participate in restorative justice practices.

The practices may include “bringing together the minor and members of the community, including victims when appropriate, convening to identify harm, repair harm to the extent possible, address trauma, and/or strengthen community ties by focusing on the needs and obligations of all parties through a participatory process,” read the ordinance language.

The minor in this case, at the behest of the administrative hearing office, may participate in substance abuse education, counseling, career training, victim-offender mediation, and/or the performance of community service not to exceed 40 hours, under the ordinance.

 Mr. Keenan-Devlin told aldermen the legislation “really re-imagines and re-invents what we as a City should be doing with children who violate our laws and our social contracts, which is asking the question: ‘How can we help you? How can we repair the harm you caused?’ –, as opposed to saying ‘Here’s a fine or here’s community- service hours.”

Like Ald. Braithwaite, Mr. Keenan-Devlin took note of the effort behind the legislation, praising the work of City staff. He predicted the new legislation “will be a model, not only for our region and for the state, but for the nation” as well.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.