A growing phenomenon in the American justice system – “problem solving courts” – is expanding in Metro-East, with the announcement last week of a new “accountability court” to assist financially distressed parents in making court-ordered child-support payments.
The Illinois Third Judicial Circuit’s new Madison County Accountability Court (MCAC) will assist parents who are willing to provide child support but are unable to fulfill their obligation due to common problems such employment and financial stability, according to Chief Judge Dave Hylla, who was formally announced the new court Dec. 7.
The new accountability court will partner with area community colleges, Madison County Employment Services, and the Madison County States’ Attorneys’ Office to identify payment barriers and then connect parents with community service agencies that can assist both individuals who owe child support payments and the families they support, according to a prepared statement.
Community partners will offer assistance with employment, job placement, and coordination for veterans, resume and interview assistance, transportation and skills development, according to the statement.
That problem-solving approach stands in marked contrast to traditional court practices, under which judges have generally just imposed penalties for nonpayment or attempted to garnishee the wages of parents who failed to make child support payments.
“The accountability court will create a favorable environment for participants to receive support and encouragement to better their lives,” said Hylla. “Barriers to success can come in many forms. Let’s help people get back to work for themselves and their families through support, job training and placement.”
Hylla is one of 13 individuals who will serve on committee overseeing the new accountability court. The committee will be chaired by former Madison County Circuit judge Ann Callis, currently an attorney in private practice with the Edwardsville law firm of Goldenberg Heller Antognoli.
Also known as specialty or therapeutic courts, problem-solving courts provide an alternative forum for certain individuals in the criminal justice system, according to Illinois Supreme Court documents, which approved standards for such courts in October. They are already commonly used to provide assistance for veterans, persons with mental illness or substance abuse disorders, among others.
In Metro-East, Jersey, Madison and St. Clair counties have all established specialized mental health courts through which participants, identified through screenings and assessments, can voluntarily take part in judicially supervised treatment plans developed jointly by a team of court personnel and mental health professionals.
Both Madison and St. Clair counties already have specialized veterans’ court to provide inter-agency, collaborative, non-adversarial treatment strategies for veterans in the criminal justice system, who suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD), psychological issues, or substance abuse problems as a result of having served in our Armed Forces.
Madison and St. Clair also have substance abuse courts offering nonviolent offenders programs of supervised treatment, drug testing, community supervision, and other rehabilitation services.
However the new Madison County Accountability Court would apparently be the region’s first problem-solving court devoted to child support issues.
“To my knowledge, Madison County’s Child Support Accountability Court is the first of its kind in the State of Illinois,” court committee chair Callis, told the Chronicle.
Madison County has already won national recognition as a leader in the problem-solving court movement, having established Illinois’ first veterans’ treatment court and mental health court, Callis adds.
“The Madison County Accountability Court will assist with job placement and skills-training to ensure every participant has the chance to fulfill their obligations and take a positive step forward,” said Callis. “We need to empower these individuals to develop the confidence and strength needed to set realistic goals for their families and fulfill their potential by getting them back to work.”
Judge Maureen Schuette and Judge Sarah Smith will preside over the new accountability court.
In addition to Chief Judge Hylla and Callis, members of the court committee are:
- Robert Plummer, president, R.P. Lumber,
- Jennifer Mudge, first assistant Madison County states attorney,
- Stephanie King, chief of the Madison County Child Support Division,
- David Stoecklin, executive director, Madison County Employment & Training,
- Clarissa Gaff, managing attorney, Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation,
- Linda Chapman, vice-president academic affairs, Lewis & Clark (L&C) Community College,
- Terry Lane, L&C director of career and veteran services,
- Janet Fontenot, dean of the business division, Southwester Illinois Community College (SWIC)
- Bill Gagen, SWIC director of workforce Development,
- Nathaniel Carrol, an attorney with Goldenberg Heller Antognoli and
- Omar Malik, an attorney with the same law firm.
— New court coming to facilitate child support compliance —