Spending a day in courtroom is often the final place anybody desires to be — particularly on the weekend.
However for individuals who need to see justice meted out equitably and effectively, courtroom B within the Winnebago County Justice Heart is strictly the place they select to be.
Since early January, defendants have been making their first courtroom look earlier than a decide and “courtroom watchers” on Saturdays.
The courtroom watching program, an initiative of the Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice, was created in anticipation of the Jan. 1 implementation of the Pretrial Fairness Act, a state regulation that does away with observe of money bail and curtails pretrial incarceration.
Simply days earlier than the regulation was to enter impact, a go well with difficult the constitutionality of the regulation was filed and the regulation was placed on maintain till the Illinois Supreme Courtroom guidelines on the matter, which is predicted within the spring.
Nevertheless, the courtroom watching program in Winnebago County was nonetheless applied underneath the path of the Rev. Violet Johnicker of Rockford City Ministries. About dozen folks have volunteered to function courtroom watchers.
New day in courtroom making an affect
As an alternative of noting who’s being launched and who’s being granted detention hearings — two key elements of Pretrial Equity Act — the volunteers are tasked with attending the county’s new Saturday courtroom and monitoring the courtroom’s transition from digital to in-person courtroom appearances.
“Having Saturday court obtainable is de facto important,” Johnicker mentioned. “We applaud the county for making that wanted, in our opinion, overdue change as a result of we all know how detrimental even only a few days in jail will be.”
As of Jan. 1, defendants are required by state regulation to look earlier than a decide inside 48 hours of their arrest.
Additionally, for the reason that begin of the brand new 12 months, preliminary courtroom appearances in Winnebago County are being made in individual as a substitute of just about by way of Zoom.
“The explanation we expect in-person appearances are higher is it is much more humanizing,” Johnicker mentioned. “There’s extra alternative for accused individuals to speak with attorneys and public defenders.”
Harmless till confirmed responsible
The Rev. Diane Tomlinson of Emmanuel Episcopal Church is one among a few dozen volunteers from Winnebago County who signed as much as be a pretrial courtroom watcher.
“I feel it is vital for me to see our judicial system working and dealing nicely,” she mentioned.
Armed with a pen, a knowledge assortment type and a replica of the courtroom’s docket, Tomlinson lately sat in Decide John Gibbons’ courtroom and famous the title, race and gender of the defendants, their costs, whether or not they had a private or court-appointed lawyer, if bond was given and different basic courtroom observations.
“I volunteered as a result of I discovered how tough it may be if somebody is incarcerated with out the choice of getting bail,” she mentioned.
She recalled one case the place the decide set bond at $5,000 requiring the defendant to pay 10% to be launched.
“I believed to myself, “Even $500 for some folks is greater than they’ll afford.”
Tomlinson, who helps implementation of the Pretrial Equity Act, mentioned, “I additionally assume it is higher to have somebody out being a productive citizen. What higher solution to say to somebody ‘I consider in you, and you might be harmless till confirmed responsible.'”
Johnicker mentioned information from the courtroom watchers will likely be shared with the Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts, a nonpartisan analysis and advocacy group that works to “interrupt cycles of poverty, mass incarceration, and racial injustice perpetrated by all elements of the authorized system.”