A devoted cadre of twelve law students volunteered for the College of Law’s annual Juvenile Temporary Detention Center Spring Service Break Project from March 13-17, 2017. The project was organized by DePaul’s Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, Center for Public Interest Law, and University Ministry in the Loop. Throughout spring break week, the students worked in small groups to teach lessons on juvenile justice issues to incarcerated youth at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The lessons covered topics such as handling encounters with law enforcement, the various stages of the juvenile justice system, the differences between probation and parole, and a juvenile justice jeopardy game. Opportunities for reflection and discussion were also part of the experience. The student volunteers found the week both challenging and rewarding. First year law student Katie Wishnew shared this about the volunteer week:
My experience at JTDC was invaluable, and one that makes me thankful that I answered my friend's casual question, “Wanna do this with me?” with my gut. My week at JTDC was practical; I was able to learn the general processes of the juvenile justice system from the youth and staff at JTDC. But, I also witnessed the real and often harsh effects of the juvenile justice system that I could not have realized outside of JTDC's walls. Though I became aware of the many injustices present in the system, I was more awestruck by the hope and fight the youth and their fervent advocates have for a more just future. Their desire to be better and make the system better was and is contagious. My experience at JTDC will have ripples for a long time.
In addition to teaching, the students met with a variety of juvenile court personnel in order to gain a better understanding of the juvenile court system and the role of attorneys, judges, and probation officers. Specifically, students had sessions with a juvenile court judge, attorneys from the Public Defender’s and State’s Attorney’s Office, and Intensive Probation Officers. Students also had an opportunity to talk with a formerly detained youth.
It was a week full of intense learning and inspiration for both the students and leaders of the service week. According to Cheryl Price, Director of the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, “I’m always so impressed by our students’ determination and flexibility when working with the youth at the JTDC. They work hard to engage with the kids in a meaningful and fun way and care deeply about the social justice issues associated with juvenile detention. Many of our students end the week with a strong commitment to helping marginalized youth in some capacity. It’s truly a life-changing experience.”