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Domestic violence court coming to Madison County

Paul Sableman | Flickr | bit.ly/1sdAKc5

Domestic violence cases in Madison County will be handled a bit differently starting June 1.

The county will become the second in Illinois to establish a domestic violence accountability court, hearing all levels of cases between intimate partners. Two civil and two criminal judges will handle the docket, allowing for better coordination among criminal cases and orders of protection.

"The criminal and civil cases are not coordinated at all right now," said Judge Richard Tognarelli, the chief criminal judge in Madison County. "Sometimes a judge on the criminal side won't even know that an order of protection has been filed."

In addition to boosting communication between the criminal and civil side as well as police and prosecutors, the domestic violence court will get offenders into intervention before they are allowed out on bond. Such treatment usually isn't required until a case is tried.

"Studies have shown that if we can get treatment within the first six weeks of the offense, the likelihood of re-offending is substantially decreased," Tognarelli said.

Getting offenders the help they need is one of several goals Tognarelli has for the new court. He also wants to reduce the number of domestic violence cases in Madison County.

"Hopefully nobody re-offends," he said. "And if we can keep them out of our jails, it's a savings to the taxpayers."

Tognarelli developed the Madison County program with the help of officials in Winnebago County, which has Illinois' only other coordinated domestic violence court and is considered a national model. (Rockford is the county seat.)

"Before, we had no accountability," said Winnebago County Judge Rosemary Collins. "We might order someone into counseling, but we never verified that it was completed."

The court has not tracked specific metrics, Collins said, and the number of domestic violence cases has not changed since Winnebago's coordinated court started in 2012. But cases aren't getting lost in the system anymore, she said, and that means the offenders can get the help they need faster.

"If the sanctions are immediate, we can connect the sanctions to the behavior," Collins said. "If it doesn't occur for another 18 to 20 months, it's hard to make the connections."

Several court personnel from Madison County were in Winnebago County two weeks ago to observe the coordinated court in action. Collins said she was impressed with her downstate Illinois colleagues, calling them committed to change.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.