As an Illinois state representative and running mate of governor candidate J.B. Pritzker, Juliana Stratton is tasked with solving enormous problems that seemingly have no solution–budget shortfalls, a hobbled justice system, poverty, crime and more. She explained to an NLU audience Oct. 12 that she views these issues through a restorative justice lens that holds the possibility for healing.
NLU’s Applied Behavioral Sciences faculty invited Stratton to speak as part of its “Restoring and Healing Communities: Searching for Sustainable Pathways to an Equitable City” ongoing series. More than 150 people attended, including students, community representatives, faculty, staff and interested citizens.
Stratton, who was sworn in to the General Assembly in January, told ABS faculty Wytress Richardson, Ed.D., Ericka Mingo, Ph.D. and Mary Kelly, M.A., who posed interview questions, that she lives by a principle.
“I’ve made a commitment to live in a restorative way. I want to be restorative in every part of my life,” she said, including her roles as state representative and parent to three daughters. “I use my mediation background and problem-solving background in everything that I do.”
For example, she said, Illinois’ General Assembly has created policies which have caused harm to citizens, and she wants to develop and push legislation that would repair the harm, or at the very least not be harmful. That fits in with the essence of restorative justice, which essentially says that a victim who is harmed in a crime must be made whole. Increasingly, the thinking is that perpetrators must also be healed or made whole, since they would not have committed the harm if they had been.
Stratton explained how her background influenced her thinking. After earning her law degree, she felt mediation could result in greater justice than the court system, so she started a mediation firm, resolving disputes such as workplace discrimination cases. She became interested in restorative justice and became trained in facilitating peace circles, the key tool used to achieve restorative justice.
“I worked In communities, particularly in the area of juvenile justice, to see if there was something else we could do,” she said. “We have people as young as 10 who are being detained. We criminalize adolescent behavior too often.
“How can we find other approaches to address the harm that has been done? Our justice system does not address all the harm that has been done. It doesn’t get to the needs of the victim or the person who caused the harm. And what does the community need as a whole?”
That’s the framework through which she views every piece of legislation, she explained.
She has been the chief sponsor of numerous bills so far, and eight have passed. One of them eliminates the approximately 75 police booking stations in schools, the existence of which she discovered in her previous work in juvenile justice as an advisor to Cook County and as the director of a nonprofit organization in the field.
“I used to do peace circles at different high schools as an alternative to harsh disciplinary practices,” she said, adding that she would see rooms with police logos on them. Students told her they were school-based police booking stations where police would process students for arrest.
She also sponsored and passed House Bill 2663, which ends preschool expulsions. While many people don’t know preschools expel students, they actually get expelled at a rate three times that of K-12 students, she said.
“And it disproportionately impacts black and brown students, boys in particular but increasingly girls.”
The next challenge is to find resources for the families and educators of those young students.
“The goal is to keep them in school because preschoolers who are expelled are less likely to finish high school,” she observed.
In response to questions, Stratton referenced the fact that the criminal justice system has used one solution–conviction and prison time–as a one-size-fits-all solution to many different problems, and that Illinois has a 52 percent recidivism rate, which indicates that the criminal justice system is not preparing those it releases to live in a productive manner.
“We have to come to grips with the fact systems are doing harm,” she noted. “When someone gets out and can’t find a home or job, the system is perpetuating that. We have to comnect with our our humanity. It doesn’t do any good to dehumanize someone.”
Stratton encouraged everyone in the audience to visit www.ilga.gov to learn the names of their representatives and contact them with their views. In addition, she urged citizens to file witness slips to register whether they support or oppose specific bills. They can be found here.