Law-Related Education (LRE) is a nation-wide movement in education and juvenile justice which seeks to promote positive youth development and to increase opportunities for young people to learn about the law. Volunteer law students participate in this movement by teaching classes about the law to the young people in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
Given the crushing caseloads of Public Defenders in Cook County, many of the young people involved in the juvenile court system do not understand even the basics of the process in which their lives are so intertwined. The heavy caseloads leave Public Defenders with insufficient time to explain these procedures to their clients. Although these young people are very intelligent, they, like most people, lack the legal sophistication necessary to fully take part in their cases so as to allow the adversary system to work effectively. An example of this lack of understanding is when a 15-year old, who had just entered an admission in exchange for a specified amount of time in the Illinois Department of Corrections, was leaving the courtroom. He turned to his Public Defender and said in a bewildered matter-of-fact voice, "Now, who are you to me?" This is hardly the adversary system at work.
The mission of LRE in the Detention Center is to empower young people by providing practical information about the law and the legal system, thus enabling and encouraging them to take an active role in the resolution of their cases and facilitating the proper functioning of the adversary process. Loyola students serve as volunteer teachers seek to develop in the young people an understanding of basic information about the court process from arrest to disposition/sentencing, about who the people are in the courtroom and what their roles are, about their rights as citizens, and about the attorney-client relationship. Imparting this information may be a step in the direction of introducing a sense in the young people that they should be treated fairly and thus, may instill a respect for the system. It may also increase the efficiency of the court system as the court will be dealing with more educated defendants.
To effectuate the program goals, volunteers teach in teams of 2 or 3, one night a week for five weeks. Lessons incorporate interactive teaching techniques, which encourage participation from the youth, such as skits and role-plays.
LRE not only benefits the young people in the Detention Center but it also provides law students with an opportunity to learn to explain legal concepts in non-legal terms, to learn to think quickly on their feet and to listen and be responsive. It also allows the teachers to get to know these young people as human beings, the first step in addressing any of the legal or other social problems which young people face.