Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center Receives $750,000 Grant from MacArthur Foundation

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Sam Wilson / JJIE

Children and Family Justice Center staff, including Julie Biehl (second from left). Photo courtesy CFJC.

Update: The Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC), part of the Northwestern University School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic in Chicago, is one of several organizations that has received a 2013 MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions.

The MacArthur Foundation awarded the CFJC $750,000 as part of an annual recognition of Foundation grantees, which are designed to ensure their sustainability as institutions helping “address some of the world’s most challenging problems.”

CFJC staff, faculty and students represent children in conflict with the law, seeking to provide “access to justice” for underrepresented young people via individual advocacy and systemic reform efforts. Founded in 1992, the CFJC trains more than 20 law students annually.

Julie Biehl, director of the CFJC, said that the grant will help her organization move to the “next level.”

“I think this award bestowed upon our organization is an honor,” she said. “I’m so proud of and excited for my staff and the team here.”

Biehl, also a sitting member of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission’s Executive and Communication Committees, said that the organization will likely use the funding to create its first ever endowment program. She also said the CFJC will use portions of the grant to fund a development and an outreach and communication strategy.

Biehl has worked with the MacArthur Foundation for many years, serving as a state team leader for the Foundation’s Models for Change (MFC) initiatives in Illinois. She said that many CFJC programs stem from her involvement in the MFC Juvenile Indigent and Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Action Networks.

“We’ve had a longstanding relationship with the Center,” said Laurie Garduque, director of Justice Reform at the MacArthur Foundation. “We thought the award comes at a critical moment both for the Center itself as well as what is occurring in juvenile justice, with all the reform initiatives gaining and taking hold.”
Garduque considers the CFJC to be not just a “key player” in Illinois, but a prominent national force for juvenile justice reform efforts.
“We thought it would be important to give them the recognition that they deserve and acknowledge their contributions to advancing reform,” she said.

Among other projects, the CFJC has been involved in parole revocation representation, immigration and asylum cases and efforts to help young people overcome registration requirements that mark them as juvenile sex offenders for life.

Under the organization’s Know Your Rights Project (KYR), the CFJC has trained more than 2,000 young people and community members through workshops that educate individuals on legal issues and arrest procedures. In partnership with the MacArthur Foundation’s Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Action Network, the CFJC published a graphic novel, in both English and Spanish, that helps teens better understand their Miranda Rights and common courtroom protocols. Via the Models for Change Initiative, more than 100,000 copies of the literature have been distributed.

Jody Kent Lavy, director and national coordinator at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, praised the CFJC, calling the organization a leader in efforts to assure that young people receive appropriate legal representation.

“As a partner in the effort to eliminate the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole, they have proven themselves to be thoughtful, strategic and impactful,“ Lavy said. “The Center and its leadership recognize that children and families are vulnerable, especially in the face of the legal system, and need an advocate who is fully committed to assuring the best outcome for their needs.”

Julie Biehl, Director of Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law from JJIE Multimedia on Vimeo.

The MacArthur Foundation is a funder of JJIE.

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