Michael’s Story: Hope for Juvenile Sexual Offenders

by CFJC students Jennifer Coronel and Caitlin Olwell

When Michael* was a child, he identified the body of a man who had been shot and killed. That man was his father.

Michael’s mother had difficulty providing a stable and healthy home while Michael was growing up. She was addicted to drugs and Michael would often have conversations with his mother while she was injecting heroin into her arm. Michael’s childhood was consumed by stress, trauma, and familial disruptions.

One afternoon nine months after his father was murdered, a group of Michael’s friends came over. One boy brought along a younger family member, whom he claimed “did things” sexually, demonstrating what he meant. Tragically, although they did not hit or threaten the victim, Michael and some of the others then engaged in the same sexual misconduct.

At just 13 years old, Michael was arrested. Because Illinois criminal law does not allow consideration of the fact that Michael and his friends were very young and had not acted violently, Michael was charged with the same level and type of offense as a violent or coercive adult sexual predator.

In juvenile court, Michael admitted delinquency for the sexual offense and spent long weeks incarcerated in the detention center. When he was released, he was placed on 5 years of juvenile probation and was required to register as a sex offender — for the rest of his life.


CFJC Out and About: Uzoamaka Nzlelibe on Unaccompanied Children and Asylum


CFJC attorney and clinical assistant professor Uzoamaka Nzelibe presented at the Immigration Law Professors Workshop at the University of California, Irvine School of Law on May 22, 2014. Uzoamaka’s presentation focused on the challenges inherent in representing children at the intersection of child welfare and immigration law.

On June 6, 2014, Uzoamaka taught a course on unaccompanied children and the asylum process at the Center for Forced Migration Studies Summer Institute at Northwestern University’s Buffet Center. Uzoamaka’s lecture was timely and provided some context for the current humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of unaccompanied children (UACs) across the southwest border of the U.S., which has dramatically risen 72 percent in the last two years.  Her June 2014 lecture covered detention and release of UACs, access to counsel for children in removal proceedings, and the types of immigration relief available to children.


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Ask An Advocate: Xavier McElrath-Bey

Xavier McElrath-Bey grew up in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. At the age of 13, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Today, he is a 38-year-old public speaker and a youth justice advocate for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.  McElrath-Bey also served as a researcher with the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a federally-funded longitudinal study investigating the mental health needs of youth detained in the juvenile justice system. In April 2014, McElrath-Bey gave a well-received TEDx talk at Northwestern University called “No Child is Born Bad.” He has been interviewed by The New York Times, has written for The Huffington Post, and has been profiled in various publications as a role model for youth involved in the system. Today, he says of his situation, “Me, personally, I’m happy to be living a normal life.”

Xavier and child

McElrath-Bey and his daughter Sophia. Photo by Charan Ingram.


Restorative Justice Forum

On April 2, 2014, Aldermen Harry Osterman (48th Ward), Joe Moore (49th Ward),  James Cappleman (46th Ward), the Children and Family Justice Center, and multiple North Side community agencies hosted a Restorative Justice Forum. Over 150 community members and juvenile justice advocates attended the forum which was comprised of two panels: restorative justice practices in schools and neighborhoods. 

RJ flier 1

Panelists discuss employing restorative justice practices in Chicago public high schools: 

rj panel 1 click