A new building opens in Winnebago County totally dedicated to juvenile justice but not all of it is funded. The Juvenile Justice Center is the newest addition to what's being called the Winnebago County Justice Campus. The center is fully dedicated to children who are both victims and perpetrators of crime.
"The old building was never suitable, we were told it would for a year or two or three or 4 and one year led into another year and another year," Chief Judge Joe McGraw, 17th Judicial Circuit Court.
The Winnebago County Juvenile Justice Center is in the old federal courthouse. It includes juvenile probation, the juvenile state's attorney and public defender's offices. But the biggest change is there will be a way to separate families and victims. That option was never available in the old juvenile courtrooms.
"The waiting area was one large area where families, often time extended families sometimes with different agendas or different interest were all thrown together in a potentially volatile situation," says Judge McGraw.
The new justice center has three courtroom in the past there were only two. This third one would help cut down on the growing abuse and neglect cases.
"We have four indicated reports of child abuse or neglect in Winnebago County each and every day and those feed into that courtroom. And currently we have over 1300 pending cases just in abuse and neglect alone which is a sad and frankly staggering static," says Judge Janet Holmgren, presiding judge of the juvenile and problem solving court division.
According Judge Holmgren the case load is second only to Cook County. But the problem the extra courtroom has a judge but not the money for support staff like another juvenile assistant state's attorney, public defender, bailiff and court reporter.
"We hope that the county board sees to continue its vision that it began here and fund the third courtroom and put the necessary staff in place so we can reflect the current case loads and current needs of the juvenile justice system," says Joe Bruscato, Winnebago County State's Attorney.
That third courtroom is only being used as a family drug and youth recovery court a few days a week. If the Winnebago County Board approves the funding it should open as an abuse and neglect courtroom next year.
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