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Crime & Courts

Residents strive to save Downers Grove Township peer jury program

DOWNERS GROVE – A group of residents is working to revive the Downers Grove Township peer jury program, which was suspended in July because of a loss of state funding.

“It’s very preliminary, right now,” said Cliff Grammich, a Downers Grove resident leading the effort to restore the program. “We have to see what level of support there is.”

The township recently suspended the peer jury program after failing to receive a $130,000 state grant to help fund youth services programming.

“We just didn’t get it this year,” Township Supervisor Mark Thoman said. “It blew a hole in our personnel costs.”

The grant helped pay for personnel in the township's youth services department, which has pared down its staff to one full-time and one part-time employee, Thoman said.

Thoman described as “painful” his decision to suspend the peer jury program.

"There was no joy in it,” he said. “It was a difficult decision.”

The youth services department also runs a life skills program in 21 schools throughout the township.

About 50 people, including former peer jury participants and their parents, attended an Aug. 3 Township Board meeting to support continuation of the program.

“Residents seemed willing to take ownership of the program,” Thoman said. “I think they appreciate the exposure to volunteerism their children had."

Residents are working with township officials on plans to launch a privately run peer jury program.

"It's still early in the process," Thoman said.

Grammich said he has contacted municipalities as well as nonprofit agencies to gauge support for a program to replace the township program. The peer jury previously met at the Downers Grove, Darien and Westmont village halls.

"We’re considering a bunch of things right now,” Grammich said. “I’m sure we can make some steps in the right direction. I’m fairly confident we can get something going.”

Since 2000, the peer jury program has been an alternative for teens who’ve made bad decisions by helping them face responsibility and giving them a chance to avoid having a crime appear on their record.

Jurors don't judge the guilt or innocence of their peers. Instead, the program served as a sentencing tool to help offenders learn from their mistakes.

The program was available to first-time offenders in lieu of going through juvenile court. Offenders stood before a jury of seven juveniles and an adult moderator if they admitted to committing the offense or if police determined a peer jury would be appropriate.

Teens were typically required to complete service hours in the community.

“My two sons were both involved,” Grammich said. “I think the program is effective.”

Thoman said he was encouraged by the residents’ desire to keep the program alive.

“They are people who are looking for a way forward,” he said. “We take a loss of funding and turn it into a positive.”

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