COOK COUNTY SPECIALTY COURTS
Specialty courts, also known as problem solving courts, seek to help low-level criminal defendants suffering from an underlying mental health, social or substance abuse problem from becoming repeat offenders. Specialty courts achieve this goal by providing treatment and intensive supervision.
The Cook County Circuit Court has a countywide network of specialty courts that includes Drug Treatment Courts, Mental Health Treatment Courts, Veterans’ Treatment Courts, and a specialty court for women charged with felony prostitution offenses. This specialty court is named, the Women in Need of Gender Specific Services (WINGS) Court.
With varying target populations, all specialty courts seek to address the primary issues that contributed to the participant’s involvement in the judicial system. These issues are addressed with public safety in mind.
In order for candidates to be eligible for the specialty court program, they must first meet certain legal and clinical criteria. Cook County specialty courts are designed primarily to assist people who have committed non-violent felony crimes. However, some specialty courts in the suburbs of Cook County accept misdemeanor cases.
Specialty courts coordinate efforts between members of the court system and organizations outside of the court system in order to guarantee that participants receive sufficient counseling. Team members from the court system are: prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, social workers, TASC case managers, and other justice system affiliates. Team members from organizations outside of the court system include: substance abuse and mental health treatment providers, community partners, and VA representatives. A judge assigned to each specific specialty court leads these teams.
The teams design and implement individualized treatment plans for participants, which include linkage to community-based services that offer intensive treatment, interventions, and supervision.
Specialty court judges are personally involved in many aspects of this process including: team building, staff meetings and status hearings. Specific roles and responsibilities are explicitly assigned, but through a coordinated effort, a participant’s case and compliance with program rules are monitored.
All specialty courts create specific goals for participants in favor of their advancement toward program completion. Participants appear in court regularly for status hearings in order for the judges to ensure ongoing interaction between participants and court team members.
Specialty courts have positively affected the lives of participants and people directly and indirectly connected to them. Among these positive affects is the significant reduction of incarceration costs and recidivism rates of specialty court participants.