Winnebago County has one of the few domestic violence specialty courts in the country that combines criminal and civil sections. It's already trained judges to handle this new system but it's now educating everyone from the chief judge to clerks and bailiffs how to handle this new system.
"We want to be smarter on how we handle cases. We want to enhance victim safety and offender accountability," says Judge Rosemary Collins.
To do that the 17th Judicial Circuit Court brought in a national team of experts that includes judges, lawyers, victim advocates, even professors, all to train the people who work everyday with families affected by domestic abuse. The goal is to break the cycle of violence.
"There are unique issues in domestic violence cases. Sometimes those cases need to be expedited, they need to be heard more quickly so that family violence issues can be addressed without being exacerbated," says Jessica Maveus, Domestic Violence Coordinated Court, project director.
Last year in Winnebago County there were almost 3000 emergency requests for orders of protection. Prosecutors handled just more than 1,200 criminal domestic violence cases. For police, at least in Rockford, that meant 316 on-scene arrests involving domestic battery.
"It's probably the number one call police have and it's a public health epidemic in the United States," says Judge Collins.
Although it's too soon to say if this new approach is working the federal government just gave Winnebago County a two year grant to expand its specialty court
"Domestic violence is a problem in our community and we recognize that and are working hard to make this a better place for our families," says Maveus.
About half of the Winnebago County court personnel went through training today the other half goes through Friday so everyone who works in the system gets educated on domestic violence.
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