Article: Using Impact Litigation As A Tool For Social Change: Jimmy Doe: A Case Study – By Lori Turner
By Lori Turner
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” -Louis L’Amour
As civil rights lawyers, we try to get the biggest bang for our buck by aiming impact litigation to bring about the institutional reforms that will affect the greatest number of people who are suffering as a result of unconstitutional practices. For the Children’s Initiative at the ACLU of Illinois (“ACLU”), this attempt to use the law as a means for systemic change has meant taking on two large government bureaucracies that care for children in custody—the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services2
and the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (“JTDC” or “facility”). The purpose of this Article is to explore the use of impact litigation as a tool for social change by examining the history of the litigation effort and reform process at the JTDC and the ways in which effective institutional reform can improve young people’s lives. I will argue that while impact litigation can be a powerful tool for institutional reform, filing a lawsuit and even winning or settling the litigation is often just the beginning of the struggle. The continued presence of a committed organization to monitor the implementation of the reform, as well as input and engagement from the community, is required to bring about widespread reform and lasting change.