Alvarez launches Offender Initiative Probation Program

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Plans to Open Fourth Community Justice Center

By Chinta Strausberg

In an exclusive on Rev. Harold Bailey’s PCC Network, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced she has launched the Offender Initiative Probation program that targets first-time, non-violent felonies she says deserve a second chance.

Continuing her trail-blazing efforts to target youth before they become habitual criminals, Alvarez is also opening her fourth Community Justice Center where her outreach is helping youth and adults who are experiencing mortgage fraud and other legal problems. She is excited about the Offender Initiative Probation program because it is reaching troubled the younger population blamed for the spike in violence.

“We created a program that is basically a diversion,” she said. “We are looking for that first-time offender with prior backgrounds and are non-violent” who would be put on an intensive year of probation “with all kinds of restriction,” she said referring to the Offender Initiative Probation program.

Alvarez said if youth were able to successfully complete this program, their case would be dismissed. “This allows them to avoid that felony conviction because we have seen those cases where a kid gets in trouble…say a burglary…nothing before, nothing after but yet he has to go through his entire life with that felony conviction.”

She said as a result of this conviction, they have been denied financial aid for college. Bailey applauded Alvarez for her pro-active programs calling it “ground-breaking.”

Alvarez said, “My inner circle are all long-time prosecutors like me… and we seen” this pattern of youth getting first-time felonies and the results of unchecked out-reach that too often leads to a cycle of jail and/or prison.

“When we talked about prevention and what can we do on our end…what can we do better, we actually started to talk to the chief judge and to all of the presiding judges and got their input about what they would think of about a program like this.”

Alvarez said she received overwhelming support for the Offender Initiative Probation program including the blessing from Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans who “was quite excited” about this program.

Asked if this program includes community service, Alvarez said, “Yes. There will be restrictions on their community service” that includes their getting a GED. “It’s to get them moving and hopefully they will realize they can turn their lives around at this point,” she said.

Alvarez also announced she is opening up her fourth Community Justice Center near the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In office for two-years and a prosecutor for 24-years, Alvarez, who is the first female and first Hispanic states attorney, said, “we would benefit…all society would benefit if we had more prevention” programs that would target and provide positive guidance to youth before they traveled down the wrong path.

During her campaign, she realized her office needed to have a greater presence in the communities her office serves. “I pushed will hard and with a lot of help” including approval from Evans and other judges she opened up three Community Justice Centers. The fourth office will be opened sometime this summer around the University of Illinois at Chicago area.

Referring to her South Side Community Justice Center, Alvarez said, “The phone never stops ringing.” The Centers are located in store front offices staffed by assistant states attorneys. “They basically hear the problems from the community…participate with community leaders with the police department. They hold forums like mortgage fraud or gang violence.”

Having been successful in getting money from the federal government to create a mortgage fraud unit. Part of that mortgage fraud grant requires us to have mortgage fraud assistants assigned to our Community Justice Centers which is great.”

Alvarez said victims of mortgage fraud came to the South Side Community Justice Center armed with their paperwork and talked to one of her attorneys. “Their house, which was in foreclosure, was actually being taken from them not by the bank–from someone who just decided he was going to break into the house, start living there and then rent it out.”

Alvarez said the homeowners said no one had been able to help them until they came to her South Side office. “We were so proud to be able to help them to secure what is rightfully theirs. Those are the types of things we are working on in those offices,” she said.

Referring to the Community Justice Centers, Alvarez said, “Sometimes it is intimidating to have to go to the courthouse. It’s nice to have those offices where people feel a little bit more comfortable” in seeking resolutions to their problems.

On youth violence, while Alvarez wishes it would go away, she’s aiming at reaching the youth before they chose a life of crime. She has established steering committees that involve the interfaith community. “There are pastors and reverends who have the ability to reach these kids.”

“We make sure that on our steering committees at our Community Justice Center that we involve clergy, the interfaith community because you have the ability to reach many more (youth) than we can,” she said.

Alvarez said she wanted to use already existing pastoral mentoring programs and is now networking with the clergy in an effort to reach more troubled youth.

“If there is a case report, we have to handle it, but if there is something where the person is not in court..,” her assistant states attorneys will step in and provide positive mentoring for the youth.

Asked about her first human trafficking conviction involving Tyrelle and Myrelle Lockett, 18, of Dolton, who are twin brothers were charged with operating a sex trafficking ring in the south suburbs, Alvarez said, “some people think that it’s only happening in other countries…that it doesn’t happen in America, but Chicago is a hub for it because we are a convention center, a transportation hub. It’s ripe for that type of crime.

“There are young women and men too who are being trafficked right here in our own back yards,” she said. “It’s sad that people tend to think that it’s not our problem but it is our problem.”

Because of the County’s budget constraints, she has applied for numerous federal grants. She was then able to open a Human Traffick unit. “We looked at how we have handled these types of cases. Traditionally, we were not doing a good job,” she admitted. “They depended on the young victim and it was not working.”

“When it comes to children, I truly believe no be loving 12-year-old girl is out there prostituting herself. She’s a victim. Someone is forcing her and someone is making her do it. So what do we do? Do we take those 12-year-olds and put them in the system and charge them with a juvenile prostitution? No, that does not work,” said Alvarez.

She turned to Springfield and was successful in getting the Illinois Safe Children’s Act passed on a first try. “That law decriminalizes juvenile prostitution” by taking those words out of the statue. “These kids are victims. They need to be treated as victims…. We’re not putting them in the system. We are basically giving them the social services that they need…. They need long-term services.

“It gives us more tools as prosecutors to work up these cases the same way we would work up a complicated financial crimes case. We’re going after their business because it’s a business. We have several long-term investigations going focusing on getting these guys where we believe we can get them and to develop a strong case so we don’t depend on the testimony of that young woman or young man,” Alvarez said.

She said the new law allows them to use wiretaps. “In the past, we were allowed to use wiretaps on people selling drugs but not people selling children,” Alvarez said. “That didn’t make sense.” Alvarez said her office “is the envy of many other states” including New York that took five-years to pass a similar statute. “Ours is more comprehensive.”

Asked how organized is human sex trafficking and are Russians involved, Alvarez said, “It’s organized. Sometimes, you’ll see international defendants, but you also see just our own domestic home-grown” defendants and sometimes gangs. “It happens here more than people think.”

When asked why can’t the punishment be stiffer when they are found guilty of human trafficking, Alvarez said, “Part of the statutes increases some fines that weren’t there before. It’s all a work in progress….”

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.

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