Lawndale Christian Legal Center (LCLC) has always been based in the neighborhood. A majority of our staff lives here and many grew up here. The people who come through our doors are more than clients, they’re our neighbors. We see their strengths, hopes, and challenges every day.
Being a part of our community gives us a unique understanding of how unmet needs can pull juveniles and emerging adults into the criminal justice system. Our wraparound support provides the resources, training, mentorship, and positive options that are key to interrupting the arrest/incarcerate/release/repeat cycle.
For instance, it’s clear that homelessness and unemployment hit young men living in North Lawndale especially hard, forcing choices that often lead to arrest. A key part of LCLC’s solution is our Keeler Avenue 28-unit, residential workforce development program. Having a safe and secure place to live allows residents to focus on employment skills that lead to living-wage employment and transitioning to independent living, financial independence and healthy lifestyles within three to four years.
Since we opened our doors LCLC has helped hundreds of young clients go on to lead full lives. In 2019 alone, we served 309 clients. Of those, 92% were not rearrested for a new case or violation. 91% of school-age clients enrolled in school or a GED program. And 69% of non-school-age clients got a job or vocational training within 9 months of working with LCLC.
These are our hopeful findings. We’ve seen the positive impact of our holistic defense program up close. But in order for others to fully embrace it, we need to know why it is working. Is there something we can do better? And might our model be used to change the criminal justice status quo beyond North Lawndale?
To answer those questions, we are currently participating in a randomized control trial with the University of Chicago Poverty Lab, the Cook County Public Defender’s Office and Chicago Beyond to evaluate the effectiveness of our model. The results of this study will give us empirical evidence of whether it leads to better outcomes for young people and can help drive systemic change within the justice system.