Peer Jury Program Unilaterally Suspended by GOP Township Supervisor.
Have you ever wondered what our Township is up to? In August 2017, Township Supervisor Mark Thoman unilaterally decided to suspend the Peer Jury Program – a decision that can have a negative effect on our community. The Peer Jury Program has benefited about 100 students and their families, friends and community each year for the past 17 years. At this rate, approximately 50 students were denied the opportunity to be diverted into the Peer Jury Program in the last 6 months.
The Downers Grove Peer Jury Program was a highly successful program with an estimated success rate of over 94%. As we know, teens make bad decisions that can have long-term consequences including college acceptance, scholarship approvals and employment. Sometimes young people need to be offered a second chance, be accountable for their actions, and to learn from their mistakes.
For students who qualified, the Program offered an alternative to the court system. The students and their families were involved in the process. They had to admit guilt and would agree to comply with the decision of the Peer Jury. Decisions included community service, writing an apology letter to a victim, and paying costs. The process included sharing what they learned and what they would have done differently. (See the article elsewhere in this issue that describes the Peer Jury Program in more detail.)
The Peer Jury Program was supported by and had the involvement of police, school professionals, and mental health professionals. This type of program brings our community together.
Here’s what has happened starting with the August 2017 Board Meeting (videos of meetings):
· Thoman announced the “suspension” of the Peer Jury Program due to a State budget cut of over $100,000. Shortly before the meeting, the community was made aware that this was happening. The room was overflowing with residents and the meeting lasted more than 2.5 hours, with attendees trying to understand the decision and expressing how important the program was. Thoman insisted that it was simply due to a budget cut until a resident asked to hear from each Trustee on their vote to eliminate the Program. Thoman finally admitted he alone made the decision without input from the Board or the community. One resident asked if he (the resident) wrote a check to cover the Program, would the program be reinstated. Thoman’s reply was “not likely.” A few people stepped up and agreed to form a committee to try to figure out how the program could be reinstated. There was a plan to return to the Board and present the Committee’s recommendations.
· At the October 19th Board Meeting, the Committee presented a proposal to start the Peer Jury Program at no expense to the Township. Funds would be raised through the community and fees paid by those involved in the Program. The cost estimate was $36,000 per year, a much lower price tag than the reported budget cut. The Committee proposed that the program be reinstated and that the Township operate it as an umbrella organization so the schools in the Township would benefit. Thoman agreed to review the proposal and report the decision at the next Board Meeting.
· The Committee found through FOIA requests that Thoman undermined the community’s support for the Peer Jury program by contacting multiple police chiefs and discouraging them from supporting the program. The Suburban Life published an article on 11/22/2017 that offered the Committee’s perspective.
· The Peer Jury Program was not on the agenda for the next Board meeting. The Board refused to have a dialog on the subject even though residents asked to be heard.
· On December 7th, at the 7:30 a.m. Board Meeting, two Trustees spoke up and indicated Peer Jury fate needed to resolved. The Board agreed that Trustee Van Der Laan and Trustee Ferguson would research other peer jury programs and talk to schools and police departments for their input. They would also meet with the Peer Jury Committee. It’s not clear why time was being spent on “researching” other programs. The DG Township Peer Jury Program was successful and supported by schools and police in the Township. Also, during this meeting, Thomas announced he found a $2,500/month ($30,000/year) surplus and suggested the surplus be used to subsidize Township employees’ health insurance. Thoman was the only “yea” vote while the Trustees voted “nay,” citing the “optics” to the community would not be positive. Remember, the estimate to reinstate Peer Jury is $36,000/year.
The next Township Board Meeting is on Thursday, February 15, at 7:30 pm, at 4340 Prince Street, Downers Grove. Peer Jury Program is expected to be on the agenda. If you are able, show your support. For updates on this issue, go to the Friends of Peer Jury in Southeast DuPage County Facebook Page.