Downers Grove Township Board Passes the Buck on the Fate of Peer Jury
By Sue Sitton
In last month’s newsletter, we asked “Is there hope for the Downers Grove Peer Jury Program” (full article). We left off with Trustees Van Der Lan and Ferguson taking on the task to research peer juries in other communities, talk to stakeholders, make recommendations for the future of peer jury, and present their recommendation at the next board meeting. If they followed through, we would know the Downers Grove Township Board’s decision on the fate of peer jury. It would be shut down or have a concrete plan to reinstate the program.
At the February 15th Board Meeting (video: starts at 17:57) Trustee Van Der Lan presented their statement. He reported they interviewed those with knowledge of other peer jury programs in the area, supporters of Downers Grove Peer Jury including current and former employees, and other stakeholders including police chiefs in the Township.
Even though Van Der Lan stated they included the Friends of Peer Jury Committee during their 2-month process, a person on the Friends of Peer Jury Committee shared that they were not contacted until shortly before this presentation to the Board. Due to short notice, they were not able to respond to any concerns or issues. Sounds like lack of interest to collaborate with those closest to the peer jury program.
Van Der Lan reported the number of hours per case in other programs was less than the Downers Grove Township Program. The only indicator of program differences was that other peer jury programs were administered at the municipal rather than a township level of government. He did not explain whether there were other key differences in the programs or outcomes that would make this statistic useful. It seems that if the board had been interested in the efficiency of the program, they would have done this before shutting it down. Remember, we were told the reason for shutting down the program was because of a $100,000+ budget cut. Also remember, the Friends of Peer Jury Committee estimated the cost of reinstating the program was $38,000.
Police chiefs within the Township were included in the process, and they told the Trustees they are supportive of peer jury. According to Van Der Lan, police representatives “affirmed the value of peer jury as a court-diversion program and as a useful tool for dealing with juvenile offenders. In short, they would like to have peer jury continue in some form.”
Van Der Lan reported the Village of Downers Grove has a plan to research peer jury and to see if it could be run more efficiently at the municipal level. He stated he looks forward to collaborating with the Village in these efforts and determine what role the Township would play (e.g., referrals). Rather than the Township being accountable and decisive about the fate of peer jury, they agree to work with the Village of Downers Grove and other interested municipalities to develop a plan to reinstate peer jury.
Since August 2017, Downers Grove Township Board has dragged its feet on making a decision regarding peer jury. During the 2-month delay while doing “research,” they lucked out in finding an out so they would not be known as the governing body that shut down the peer jury. Each month the Township delayed, an estimated 8 teens has had to endure the court system and did not have the opportunity to learn from making a bad decision. We can now add another 2 months for more research plus the time and energy to start a new program.
Didn’t we already have a successful program? If the right decision is to move the program administration from Township to Municipal, this could have been done with responsible governing and without putting teens in harm’s way. Mark Thoman shut down this valuable program by himself and without any reported input from the community or anyone else before he made that decision in August 2017.
Thanks to the Village of Downers Grove for taking action to attempt to bring an important program back for our community.