SPRINGFIELD – A bill that would prevent statements and actions made by participants in restorative justice programs from being used in court proceedings passed the Illinois Senate on Wednesday in partisan vote.
Senate Bill 64, introduced by Chicago Democrat Sen. Robert Peters, would make “anything said or done” in the course of a restorative justice practice “privileged,” meaning it cannot be used “in any civil, criminal, juvenile, or administrative proceeding.”
Illinois first began using restorative justice courts in 2017. According to the Illinois State Bar Association, restorative justice is meant to bring together the offenders, victims and communities to “address and repair the harm.”
The legislation defines this practice as when “parties who have caused harm or who have been harmed and community stakeholders collectively gather to identify and repair harm to the extent possible, address trauma, reduce the likelihood of further harm, and strengthen community ties.”
The State Bar provides examples of restorative justice practices such as mediation between the victim and offender, a conference between supporters of both parties in the crime, and a listening panel between the offender and members of their community.
In a statement released Wednesday, Peters said the legislation would allow for restorative justice practices to be done in good faith without fear of retribution.
Offending participants in restorative justice programs will typically be pushed to explain their actions and apologize to the victim and the victim is usually encouraged to make amends with earnest, apologetic offenders. Peters’ legislation would make sure that statements from both parties made in this process will not be used in criminal, juvenile or civil suits to influence decisions towards or against either party.
Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said she supported the spirit of the bill, but that more needed to be added to prevent abuse of the statute by offenders.
“Many of the sexual predators, the perpetrators in a sexual assault or domestic abuse situation are manipulative, they’re manipulative and they feed on tormenting their victims, continually, even as they apologize,” she said. “I think that a manipulative perpetrator can further do damage to his victim, unless we tweak some of this language.”
SB 64 provides exceptions that will waive the privilege granted to recipients under three conditions: if disclosure would prevent death or bodily harm, if disclosure is required under another law, or if a court requires a report on a restorative justice practice taking place.
Restorative justice practices undertaken outside of the court system by schools, workplaces and community groups would also fall under this legislation and be shielded from having their contents admitted in court proceedings.
However, the validity of these practices can be challenged in court and following a hearing a judge would decide whether they qualify for the protections offered by the legislation.
Following a short debate on the Senate floor, the bill passed along partisan lines in a 39-17 vote and advanced to the House floor.