A voice for the forgotten


Law grad takes a stand for incarcerated youth

Jill Chapman uses her law degree to help businesses, and to help children and families in need.

A 1985 graduate of Wayne State University Law School, she is a consultant for Chicago businesses, and board chair of Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois.

It is the nonprofit work that engages her heart most of all at this stage in her life.

Chapman has impatiently pushed for expansion of the Regenerations program that serves youth, ages 12-20, in custody with Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and involved in the juvenile justice system.

“As a historic child welfare agency, our staff realized there were lost and forgotten youth in the foster care system,” she said. “These were older youth who had been written off and deemed beyond help. There were hundreds of older foster youth in correctional and detention centers around Illinois that were past the release date but remained incarcerated due to no program and no place for them to go. This was not acceptable to us. Nobody is beyond help; we just needed to develop the proper service and secure funds to run it.”

So Lutheran Child and Family Services, partnering with the state, other social service providers and academia, created Regenerations in 2007.

“As a board member and now chair, I support expanding Regenerations across the state, and nurture a vision with staff to make Regenerations become a best practice approach to addressing
these youth. Longer term, we want to share the program with other states so children do not languish in detention centers. The need is great, but the funding is lean—a problem for all of us. If juvenile detention centers keep kids locked up beyond their release dates, they have failed our communities and our moral obligation to these children.”

Regenerations connects these youth with caring family members, friends and/or people within the community to create a network of support. In addition, it provides the youth with intensive
wraparound services, including a mentor, advocacy, education, life skills training, therapy and vocational training to help them be successful.

“Our ultimate goal is to reduce recidivism and positively impact the over-representation of foster care alumni in the adult correctional system later in life,” Chapman said.

Her legal training gives her a better ability to understand and “ask the right questions” about Illinois laws, she said.

“My education has provided added weight in discussions with legislators, board members, the inspector general and, of course, with other attorneys,” said Chapman, a Chicago resident who grew up in Dearborn. “I love to problem-solve and work with people, so law was a great path for me. Wayne Law is the only school I applied to. It had a good reputation and had a price point I was willing to pay. There also was a significant family connection. My parents were both Detroiters, met at WSU and had many friends who were WSU alumni. My dad received a BS in engineering from WSU.”

Chapman earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Calvin College, and also attended Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and WSU’s labor and industrial relations and management masters courses.

From 2004-09, she was managing director of benefits strategy for United Airlines, and from 2010-14, was senior director of benefits for OfficeMax. In 2015, she started her consulting work. In 2010, she joined the Board of Trustees for Lutheran Child and Family Services.

When she started law school, she had no specific career path in mind.

“I knew I wanted to live in a big city, have challenging work and make a positive impact in people’s lives,” Chapman said. “Early on, I shifted from practicing law to working in and eventually leading a human resources function in large corporations. My early career focus as an attorney and then as a business person was in pensions and retirement plans. My career focus expanded and changed over time to employee and retiree healthcare, health management and change management.”

“I’ve been involved in labor negotiations, mergers, acquisitions, organization restructuring and even bankruptcies. United was in bankruptcy when I joined, and within the year I was working with the federal agency in charge of terminated pensions. The variety of work and inevitable changes that occur in the life cycle of a business have kept my career interesting and challenging.”

Her own life cycle has had changes, too, over the years, and she’s more focused now than ever on making “a positive impact in people’s lives.”

“With my kids out of high school, I now serve on the Lutheran Child and Family Services board’s governance and HR committees,” Chapman said. “Since 2017, I have been board chair, leading both the board and the executive committee. The board monitors the intended ends and actual results delivered by the organization. This means we can impact the vision and mission of the organization.”

7 questions with Jill Chapman

Q: What do you see as the critical issues in justice reform in this country today and why?

A: Over-incarceration is a significant issue in our country. We’ve seen the unintended outcomes from the “war on drugs,” “three strikes you’re out,” and mandatory sentencing laws. No one knew these laws would make us the penal colony nation that we’ve become. We have more prisoners than any other country, along with a disproportionate rate of incarceration of minorities when compared to the overall population. We’ve hollowed out the working-age male population from minority communities.

Rather than protecting our streets, we are imprisoning individuals for life who have committed nonviolent crimes. Kids do not have parents. Families are not able to thrive. We spend unlimited funds to incarcerate people and militarize our police forces, but fail to provide intact family services to support families who need guidance and encouragement.

Good sources for becoming better informed on the issue include Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Incarceration in an Era of Colorblindness, 13th on Netflix and Jay Z and Molly Crabapple’s A History of the War on Drugs on YouTube.

Q: What are some of your most memorable experiences from law school?

A: I studied international human rights law and comparative civil liberties at Magdalen College at Oxford University in England the summer before my second year. The English cases I read that summer have stayed with me to this day and driven home the uniqueness of our First Amendment right of free speech. Similar speeches in England result in convictions and imprisonment for sedition.

I was a research assistant for (the late) Maurice Kelman (Wayne Law class of 1959), my constitutional law professor, and doing research on articles about historical Michigan Supreme Court judges down at the Detroit Free Press in 1984. Tiger Stadium was a few blocks away back then. Someone mentioned that the Tigers would probably win the pennant that night, and there could be riots near the stadium. I bolted out of the neighborhood in time to see the riots and turned-over cars on TV that night.

Distinguished Professor Robert Sedler suggested I do an internship in Washington, D.C., my second summer. I wrote a paper based on the work I did on the First Amendment and electronic media — 30 years before internet, YouTube, etc. Sedler loved the paper and he has been my go-to person ever since on a variety of civil justice issues.

I was on the Women’s Law Caucus, and I remember picking up bagels at Eastern Market, then selling them along with coffee before morning classes to raise money. We earned enough for the entire group to attend a Women and the Law Conference in New York City. I recall Wayne Law also contributed to the trip.

Q: Where did you grow up and what sort of kid were you?

A: I grew up in Dearborn, with three years throughsecond grade spent in Essex, England. As a kid, I wrote poetry and letters to family and friends, read books, learned to ski at Mt. Brighton and Mt. Holly, and went camping with my family.

Q: What was your first job?

A: I’ve worked since I was in junior high, so I’d say babysitting, but my first W-2 job after ninth grade involved peeling potatoes and cleaning guest rooms at a dude ranch in the Upper Peninsula.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A: I read books and write. My husband and I bike along the lake and catch outdoor weekend concerts at Millennium Park. We like to ski and visit national parks with our kids.

Q: Who are some of your role models, and why?

A: Desmond Tutu was a unifying leader in the nonviolent struggle to address the problem of apartheid.

Moms and dads who try to raise loved, thriving and community-minded children, because our society needs engaged citizens.

Q: What is your favorite book?

A: My all-time favorite from high school is Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” I like to have a fiction book underway along with a nonfiction historical narrative or biography.


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