Who We Are and What We Do


Modern restorative justice practices in the United States date back to the 1970’s and 1980’s and by the 1990’s interest was growing in scattered sites across Illinois.  In November of 1997, a collaboration of citizens from various community, faith-based and governmental organizations across the state met and created Restorative Justice for IllinoisRestorative Justice for Illinois organized four one-day summits throughout Illinois, and two statewide conferences from 1998 through 2000. Speakers from around the country came to share restorative justice experiences and practices that were successful in other states.  These events resulted in significant statewide interest in restorative justice, and Governor George Ryan proclaimed September 7-8, 2000 as “Restorative Justice Days” in Illinois.

By the late 1990’s a growing number of juvenile justice practitioners began to express interest in restorative justice, and the Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) movement in Illinois began to grow. The Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 1998 adopted a balanced and restorative justice model for Illinois' juvenile justice system.  In November 2002, a diverse group of approximately 30 statewide juvenile justice practitioners and community organization members met in Bloomington to develop a strategy to further support statewide implementation of restorative justice. It was at that meeting that the idea for a statewide “Balanced and Restorative Justice Summit” was first mentioned.

In September 2003, a three-day Illinois BARJ Summit was held in Springfield that attracted more than 140 participants, including the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and internationally recognized BARJ leaders. The Summit was a transformational event in the history of BARJ in Illinois. The primary Summit goal was to provide opportunities for geographically and professionally diverse individuals from community and government settings across the state to create a strategy to promote local development and implementation of BARJ practices, consistent with the purpose and policy statement of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Reform Act.

After the Summit ended, Summit planners and other like-minded colleagues continued to meet on a quarterly schedule as the “coordinating council” of the Illinois BARJ Initiative (IBARJI) to strengthen the restorative justice momentum produced by the Summit. Over the next few years, the IBARJI remained a diverse collaborative (representing courts, corrections, schools, law enforcement, local governmental, community and faith-based organizations, and victim and offender advocacy) committed to supporting local BARJ initiatives around Illinois.    

In March 2005, the IBARJI worked with the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) to implement the “Juvenile Justice in Illinois: Implementing Restorative Practices in Your Community” conference in Springfield to highlight restorative justice practices in Illinois.  Since 2005, ICJIA has used Juvenile Accountability Block Grant funding to host trainings across the state on victim offender dialogue, family group conferencing, and peacemaking circles. Most recently, ICJIA has sponsored BARJ trainings (some conducted by IBARJI members) for school personnel throughout the state, creating new enthusiasm to use restorative practices in school settings.  

In 2005, the IBARJI coordinating council decided to create a 501(c)3 called the Illinois BARJ Project (IBARJP) to support the Illinois BARJ community (defined as all in Illinois who use or want to learn about restorative practices) through the provision of training and technical support, fund-raising and other BARJ-related organizational activities. In 2006, the IBARJP received funding support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to provide consultation and training to the five Models for Change sites in Illinois and to create models for sustainability through curriculum development, community capacity building and organizational development.  Thanks to this funding, the IBARJP was able to hire an executive director, create an IBARJI website, maintain and communicate with a large list serve of over 400 members, engage in Board development activities, and to continue supporting BARJ trainings across Illinois. 

Post Summit, the IBARJI continued to meet quarterly in Central Illinois (Paxton) through 2007 to discover, share experiences and learn from each other.  Beginning in 2008, IBARJI meetings were scheduled in various locations around the state, beginning in northern Illinois (Lee County) and followed by meetings in southern Illinois (Mt. Vernon), and Decatur.  Summer meetings continue to be held in Paxton, and fall meetings are held in Chicago in conjunction with the quarterly Chicago City-Wide Restorative Justice meetings. 

In 2009, thanks to continued MacArthur Foundation funding, the IBARJP was able to hire a second full-time employee, an Operations Manager, to oversee day-to-day operations of the organization.  Over time, because the Illinois BARJ Initiative had come to be popularly known as Illinois BARJ, the IBARJP Board of Directors simplified the name of the Illinois BARJ Initiative to, simply, Illinois BARJ.  In 2010, the IBARJP upgraded the Illinois BARJ website to include more interactive opportunities for member input, blogs, discussion forums, RSS feeds, and other upgrades. 

Illinois BARJ has grown exponentially since its early days in the 1990s.  At first, there were pockets of BARJ programs within very retributive systems but as time has passed, we increasingly discovered that  people learn from the BARJ program model to become more restorative vs. retributive in their thinking and in their day-to-day activities, and we now find ourselves working within systems to create more restorative practices from classrooms to courtrooms.  Schools are increasingly asking for support to establish restorative practices and school climates following their experiences with such failed philosophies as zero tolerance.  Judges are joining community organizations to work toward more meaningful collaborations within school districts.  Illinois BARJ has become a resource for development of curriculum, data development, and for all those interested in learning more, finding training or other events, and collaborating with others.  It is an exciting time in Illinois.

Also in Illinois, there are other creative, progressive juvenile justice initiatives that are consistent with or that make use of BARJ principles, including: Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC); Redeploy Illinois (RI); Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI); the Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI); MacArthur’s Models for Change (MFC); as well as the newly organized Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (formerly the Juvenile Division of the Illinois Department of Corrections). As a result of the concurrent development of these initiatives, a critical mass now exists in Illinois for substantial juvenile justice reform.  

To be placed on the IBARJ list serve or to request further information, contact Sara Balgoyen at sarab@ibarj.org.