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Proposal in place to resurrect Downers Grove Township's peer jury program

DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove Township Supervisor Mark Thoman plans to meet with Downers Grove commissioner Bill White to address a proposal White has drawn up to resurrect the peer jury program.

The two plan to discuss the creation of a special revenue fund for the peer jury program, Thoman said.

Revenue that would go into the fund would come from private donations, fundraising, grants and contributions from municipalities, police departments and school districts, according to White's proposal.

The proposal calls for the township to contract with a private entity that would provide the services needed to offer the program. The township would sponsor the program but not fund or actively manage it, according to the proposal.

“What we’re asking the township to consider is a special revenue fund that gives us the means to relaunch the program,” Cliff Grammich, a proponent of a privately run program, said at the Oct. 9 township Board of Trustees meeting.

The hope is for the township to receive donations from third parties to pay for the program, he said.

"We’ve discussed a variety of non-township revenues for the program,” said Grammich, whose sons have participated in the peer jury program.

Organizers believe they’ll need $36,000 to start the program.

“We think that’s a feasible fundraising goal,” Grammich said. “I want to ask you to consider this as soon as you can. “We’d like to relaunch the program within two months.”

Thoman called the proposal “very preliminary” during an Oct. 23 interview. He said he would receive feedback from township trustees before meeting with White.

“The township could be an overarching umbrella that coordinates everything,” said Thoman, who added details of the proposal would have to be flushed out.

He said the municipalities, police departments and schools, as well as the DuPage County Circuit Court, would have to support the initiative.

“They all have to be involved,” Thoman said. “They’d all have to buy in.”

Organizers believe the township remains the best organization to oversee the program as it would avoid the duplication of services that would occur if iindividual communities were involved. Additionally, the participation of several high schools within the township guarantees some anonymity for offenders.

The township in July suspended the peer jury program after failing to receive a $130,000 state grant to help fund youth services programming. The grant helped pay for personnel in the township's youth services department.

Soon after the decision, a group of residents organized to explore ways to run the program privately.

That initiative led to discussions between police chiefs from the communities that participated in the program and Lori Wrzesinski, who formerly ran the program.

Wrzesinski previously said liability issues also must be addressed before the program could start.

Burr Ridge, Clarendon Hills, Darien, Downers Grove, Hinsdale, Oak Brook, Westmont and Willowbrook participated in the peer jury program.

Since 2000, the 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 didn'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.

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