June 23, 2020
In 2018, in response to the growing heroin and opioid epidemic in DuPage County, the 18th Judicial Circuit implemented a nationally recognized First Offender Call Unified for Success (FOCUS) program which provides non-violent first-offenders the necessary treatment, counseling and education needed to successfully complete their term of probation. Thanks to the leadership of the DuPage County Board and Health Department, the court received a $50,000 grant from the Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Education Taskforce (HOPE). This innovative problem-solving court was added to four established DuPage County problem-solving courts which include Drug Court, Mental Illness Court Alternative Program (MICAP) and Veterans Court. Using a team approach with a specially trained judge and comprehensive staff including clinical specialists, these courts share the same goals of rehabilitation and restorative justice principles by employing evidence based practices. They provide participants with intensive monitoring, treatment options, and accountability to address addiction and mental illness so that participants can achieve and maintain recovery, become productive members of their communities, and decrease recidivism.
Currently, these courtrooms are experiencing court dockets almost double in size since their inception. Chief Judge Guerin explained, "As participation in these programs has grown, it has become clear that there is a need to better supervise, organize, and implement procedures to enhance the effectiveness of these court calls. The juvenile courtrooms also adhere to similar practices and outlook. It just made sense to combine the specialty and juvenile courts into one division rather than have them spread across three separate court divisions. Based on her proven leadership and experience as an assistant state's attorney, presiding judge of Misdemeanor and Traffic Division, and chairperson of the Family Violence Coordinating Council, Circuit Judge Ann Celine Walsh was named to head this important division. Judge Walsh will provide support and guidance to the judges who preside over these court calls.
"I am honored to lead the Specialty and Juvenile Courts Division as these court calls move beyond a traditional approach and focus on addressing the root cause of behaviors that bring these defendants to court. These courts work tirelessly to improve the overall results for all those that are involved - the defendants, their victims, and the County as a whole." Judge Ann Celine Walsh.
Importantly, this new division comes at a time when the pandemic has made it even more challenging to address the needs of individuals who are isolated and suffering from substance use disorder and mental illness. A recent increase in overdose deaths reported by Coroner Richard Jorgensen may be a result of a change in the makeup of the drugs ingested, drug usage or due to current changes in society created by the pandemic. Judge Walsh is overseeing the judges in the division, like Judge Kavita Athanikar who presides over FOCUS and drug court. Judge Athanikar has anticipated the challenges created by increased drug usage and the pandemic putting a comprehensive plan in place during this time to increase monitoring, creatively incentivize, and oversee treatment responses to help those that appear in her courtroom stay on track. "I am proud to work with my fellow judges who are dedicated and motivated to move these programs forward even through the pandemic," said Judge Walsh after discussing specific plans for participant stability. "My overall goal is to help improve the efficiency and productivity of all of these courtrooms to ensure their continued success."