COMMENTARY:

Thinking About Justice

by Fred Cederholm
There is the perception that justice (remedying a misdeed) and leveling the playing field applies for the rich and powerful, but heaven alone works for those in the lower and less affluent rungs of our society.

I’ve been thinking about justice. Actually I’ve been thinking about Goldman Sachs, large and small, the League of Women Voters monthly forums, Ogle County, State’s Attorney Ben Rowe, juveniles, Focus House, and Sinnissippi Center(s). This week we should see the beginnings of the hearings into the alleged malfeasance of the major Wall Street investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs. It will be an eye opener! Did they deliberately and with malice of forethought seek to criminally enrich the few (and themselves) at the cost to many in their selling and manipulation of BOTH sides of mortgage backed securities? The Goldman case will bring before the public the workings of our system (and I use the term loosely) of “man made” derived investments and the marketing of BOTH sides of the transactions. These are sum zero investments meaning for somebody to make a dollar, somebody else must lose a dollar. The issue is not only that BILLIONS of dollars were in play here, but what is “right” about the US system of investment markets and the regulation/monitoring of the system as well. There is the perception that justice (remedying a misdeed) and leveling the playing field applies for the rich and powerful, but heaven alone works for those in the lower and less affluent rungs of our society.

Last Thursday evening I attended a monthly forum sponsored by the Rochelle Area Chapter of the League of Women Voters. The presenters were Ogle County States Attorney Ben Rowe, Ogle County Director of Court Services Greg Martin, and Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council Executive Director Sheri Egan. I wish that literally EVERY person in our area had attended because the information presented was impressive! We are clearly ahead of the curve both statewide and nationally when it comes to this locality’s handling of its treatment of juvenile “justice.” The Ogle County plan and execution thereof through a working partnership of law enforcement, the court system, local auxiliary support agencies, and volunteers should serve as a model of what can be done in the rest of the State of Illinois and the nation as a whole.

Several “facts” are central to the effective workings of the Ogle County Juvenile Justice System. First it is not monolithic in that committing any offense against socially accepted norms will send a perpetrator directly to jail. There are degrees of offenses and the punishment/remedies match them. This does not mean that some parties will be “nailed” while others will get a “pass.” There are NO free passes at work here. There is accountability and accounting at work here. A child that is lost to substance abuse and crime costs our society an average of $2.4 MILLION over a lifetime. 75% of kids who have spent time in juvenile detention centers are incarcerated later in life. Note also that 42% of admissions to juvenile prisons are for non-criminal actions. Roughly one/third of youth in lock-up are of low risk to re-offend, 7% are in for misdemeanor offenses, and almost half of youth in custody are there for committing non-violent crimes. A single sentencing “outcome” for all offenders does not correct things!

The Ogle County Juvenile Plan/System calls for a pre-court evaluation of each case. This involves the offender, the victim(s), counselors, law enforcement, and the courts. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has funded “Models for Change” to accelerate progress toward a more rational, fair, effective and developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system. Ogle County and four other demonstration projects are working with this “Models” initiative.

The Juvenile Justice Council in Ogle County coordinates, guides, and engages the community. It works with school officials, law enforcement, and social welfare assistance agencies within the area. Whenever possible offending children are diverted to counseling programs, treatment, and live in safe facilities within the home community. The focus is on re-direction, counseling, and education. Rochelle Focus House and Sinnissippi Centers are unique both within the state and the nation. Their participation in the workings of this system have been critical to the growing number of successes achieved.

The community itself is involved in the Balance and Restorative Justice (BARJ) or “diversion programming” system. Community impact panels, performing community service, victim/offender conferencing, informal dispute negotiations, accountability contracts, restitution, and formal letters of apology also figure into the mix. Volunteers and local financial contributions are so critical to the successes of these programs. We can take a great deal of local pride in the workings and successes here.

To borrow from William Shakespeare: “And earthy power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.”

I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.


Copyright 2009 Questions, Inc. All rights reserved. Fred Cederholm is a CPA/CFE, a forensic accountant, and writer. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois (B.A., M.A. and M.A.S.). He can be reached at asklet@rochelle.net.



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This story was published on April 26, 2010.