CHICAGO (CBS) -- Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle met with a group of anti-violence activists on the South Side on Wednesday, and announced the county would spend $500,000 on so-called "restorative justice" programs in an effort to help prevent ex-cons from going back to court or jail, and to curb violent crime.
Preckwinkle and Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-7th) sat in a peace circle with activists and clergy at the Southsiders Together Organizing for Power (STOP) Peace Hub in the Woodlawn neighborhood, as they announced the new initiative.
Restorative justice, by definition, focuses on rehabilitating ex-offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community.
Garcia called the $500,000 fund a modest investment.
"It is about teaching young people a new culture of conflict-resolution," he said.
Activist Corey Mason said restorative justice focuses on communication.
"Restorative justice practices are ways in which we can mend these ills in our communities," he said.
Preckwinkle conceded this is new territory for Cook County government.
"This is, frankly, a new initiative for the county. Our previous investments have been in courts and jails, and now we're trying to figure out how to invest in community organizations that will help us reduce our jail population to keep people from coming in," she said.
Brother Juan Acuña works with a church-based restorative justice program in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.
"We organize reading circles with the mothers of victims, and perpetrators of violence, to help them deal with the pain and support them," he said.
Preckwinkle said they'll give the program a year, and try to figure out what worked and what didn't.
Activists involved in restorative justice programs insisted they make a difference, and change lives for the better.
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