The Chicago Bureau

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Juvenile Life Without Parole, and the Hope and Horror of Re-sentencing

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CHICAGO — Tuesday afternoons around lunchtime, Precious Blood Ministry in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood opens for a group of mothers chatting up to the door, balancing home-made lasagna and chocolate chip cookies. They come from the West and South Sides of Chicago, and they’re good friends despite their circumstances for coming together, which isn’t just to discuss the polar vortex over sloppy joes. The group’s leader is a redheaded real estate agent named Julie Anderson, whose brawling voice precedes a plain-spoken personality highlighted by intermittent, self-deprecating quips at the expense of her own Catholic idiosyncrasies. Others include mother-daughter pairs and grandmothers who make the trek down to Precious Blood every week alone. One woman carries a petition along with a photo of her son everywhere she goes. Continue Reading →

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‘Affluenza’ Case Highlights Socioeconomic, Racial Disparities in Justice

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CHICAGO — In 2004, 21-year-old David Koschman lost his life in a drunken confrontation. Nearly 10 years later, his killer has only begun to face judicial consequences for the crime. For seven years, Koschman’s case remained an unsolved homicide, despite several witnesses identifying Richard “R.J.” Vanecko as the assaulter who punched Koschman in the face after a long night of drinking, causing Koschman to fall backward and hit his head on the street. Koschman died 12 days later but the assaulter was never charged. A 2011 Chicago Sun-Times investigation led to the eventual indictment of Vanecko, nephew of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, in 2012. Continue Reading →

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White Paper: Need to Reform Mental Health Treatment for Incarcerated Youth

Up to 70% of youth involved with the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder

CHICAGO — National mental health organizations and experts are calling for reforming mental health services for incarcerated youth after recent reports revealed startlingly high numbers of mental health disorder in the population. Up to 70 percent of youths who come in contact with the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to a Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change white paper published Thursday. On average, up to 600,000 youths are in detention centers and 70,000 youths are in correctional facilities every day. Many of those youths are in detention for committing minor, non-violent offenses, according to the white paper. But once inside detention and facilities, youth do not receive proper treatment for mental health disorders. Continue Reading →

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Illinois Riddled With Issues of Juvenile Access to Counsel, Fair Representation

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CHICAGO — In 2007, Northwestern University Law School’s Children and Family Justice Center and the National Juvenile Defender Center collaborated to identify key issues in Illinois with juvenile access to counsel and representation in proceedings. Seven years later, it is still unclear whether the state has found solutions to any of those problems. Rather, Illinois has found itself riddled with additional challenges as its juvenile prisons came under fire for numerous reports of sexual assault.

“I think it’s hard to bring [this study] up to date because I don’t know that anyone’s followed up,” said Julie Biehl, director at the Children and Family Justice Center. The report’s major findings included untimely appointment of counsel and pressure for children to plea guilty without complete understanding of the consequences. Many of the issues correlated with the volume of cases despite inadequate number of public defenders available for them. “Public defender offices are always underresourced,” said Anne Helms, pro bono counsel with law firm DLA Piper. Continue Reading →

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Childhood Early Aggression More Related to Genes Than Earlier Thought

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CHICAGO — Childhood aggression may have more to do with a child’s genes than his or her surroundings, a new study has found. But environment and parenting remain key factors in the upbringing of young children, according to child development experts. Montreal researchers claim that genetic factors may contribute more to a small child’s tendency to be physically aggressive than environmental factors. To arrive at the root causes of physical aggression in young children, researchers at the University of Montreal conducted a study and posted new findings that could help clear up the perennial nature-versus-nurture debate. Their findings: that the genetic makeup has more impact than does surrounding environment on whether a child likely will act out aggressively toward other children, adults or possessions. Continue Reading →

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