See Friday's post for our announcement of this blog's series featuring MVFHR members' work in the area of violence prevention.
MVFHR board members Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins and Bill Jenkins are regular participants in the Cook County Juvenile Justice System’s Victim Impact Panels, through which victims of violence speak to audiences of juvenile offenders. Youth aged 13-17 who have been sentenced to jail time or probation are required by law to attend these panels, and, as Jennifer describes it, “You don’t reach them all, but my unscientific observation is that at least half at each panel have been affected enough that they come up afterwards and say something to us or write it in their evaluation. They say, ‘I didn’t want to be here, but this was good for me, it has really made me think.’”
The goal of the panels is for victims to describe how they’ve been affected by the experience of crime. Jennifer explains it like this: “Hearing us talk about how we’ve been affected allows kids to think, maybe for the first time, about the ripple effects of their actions, and about the connections between themselves and other people.”
Jennifer’s sister and brother-in-law were killed by 16-year-old David Biro, and when speaking on the Victim Impact Panels Jennifer tells the juvenile offenders in the audience, “If this program had been in place when David Biro was in an earlier stage of his criminal career, maybe my sister would be alive today.”
Bill Jenkins’s son was killed in a convenience store robbery, and when Bill speaks on the panels, he talks about the two teenaged accomplices who did not stand up to the 23-year-old who planned the robbery during which his son was killed. He uses the story to illustrate the consequences of not speaking up or refusing to participate at crucial moments when a crime is about to occur.
According to Jennifer, the statistics on those juvenile offenders who have attended these Victim Impact Panels over the years show that recidivism rates have dropped by half since the panels began, so this feels to her and Bill like a meaningful way of preventing future violence. The program has recently expanded to include panels at the adult jail, and Jennifer and Bill have begun participating in those as well.
This news story describes one of the Victim Impact Panels and the participants’ response to it.