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March 27, 2023 Asked and Answered

Many young people arrested for Chicago carjackings have been exposed to violence daily, lawyer and pastor says

By Stephanie Francis Ward

As rises in Chicago carjackings continue to increase fear among many residents, Cliff Nellis, an attorney and pastor who founded the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, says his nonprofit group represents a fair amount of young people charged with the crime.

The representation is free, and Nellis, who lives and works in the Chicago neighborhood of Lawndale, says he’s known many of the clients or their families for years.

According to him, common factors for many clients include living in food and recreational deserts; trying to make money, starting around age 8; and routine exposure to violent crimes.

“That shapes a young person. Their sense of safety has been fractured daily from a very young age,” Nellis says.

In addition to legal representation, his organization offers job training and education programs to clients, as well psychological treatment.

“We see ourselves as a violence prevention agency. This is core to public safety. If we can walk a young person through the criminal justice system, never to return again, and put them on a path toward school and employment, we are preventing violence and crime. And poverty,” he says.

Send ideas for future episodes to ABA Journal Senior Writer Stephanie Francis Ward.

In This Podcast

Cliff Nellis

Cliff Nellis has a law degree from the University of Chicago, as well as a Master of Divinity from the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In 2009, he helped found the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, where he is the executive director.