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Gun Violence May Be Next Issue On Criminal Justice Panel's Agenda

Frank Beck speaks
Ryan Denham
Frank Beck with ISU’s Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development updates the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council on jail population trends on Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Bloomington.";

Less than 48 hours after the latest fatal shooting in Bloomington, leaders of the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council signaled Thursday that reducing gun violence will become one of their priorities.

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) formed in 2009, largely to deal with a costly county jail overpopulation problem. With that problem now under control—thanks to systemic changes and the opening of a new $40 million jail expansion—the CJCC is looking for new issues to tackle.

One of those issues could be an uptick in gun cases, said Eleventh Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer, a member of the CJCC executive committee. That work would be driven by law enforcement officials who are CJCC members, including police chiefs Clay Wheeler and Rick Bleichner, he said. Other groups would also be involved, he said, including the Juvenile Justice Council chaired by Bleichner.

“We are willing to do whatever we can to assist,” Fellheimer said.

Added fellow CJCC member Judge Casey Costigan: "We have a lot of decision-makers around the table who can get things done."

Nine people were shot and killed in Bloomington-Normal in 2018, and seven others were wounded. There have been at least eight incidents of gunfire so far in 2019, including Tuesday night’s shooting in Bloomington that killed 25-year-old Juan Nash and critically injured two other young men.

Police say despite the spike in gun homicides, overall violent crime is down in Bloomington-Normal. 

Meanwhile, Illinois State University researchers told the CJCC that its efforts to reduce the jail population were paying off.

The McLean County jail saw bookings fall to just 3,506 in 2018. That’s the lowest number of bookings (overnight stays) in 17 years, and well below the 5,215 high in 2008 just before the CJCC was formed, said Frank Beck with ISU’s Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development. 

Beck said there are several reasons for that decline: 

  • Ordinance violations, like open container or public urination violations, are being handled at police stations rather than the jail.
  • The state decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2016. Some minor possession cases are being treated as ordinance violations now, Beck said.
  • The state’s bail reform law took effect in 2018. That changed bond amount amounts for non-violent minor offenses, moving people through the jail more quickly.
  • Some low-level Category 4 felony offenses, such as certain cases of retail theft, are being treated as misdemeanors.

All of that adds up to fewer misdemeanor defendants in the jail, Beck said. Recidivism is also on the decline, he said. Around 21.4 percent of offenders with a conviction in the past two years were convicted of a new crime as of December 2018, Beck said. That’s down half a percentage point from 2017. 
“All of this is good news,” Beck said.

The CJCC is comprised of criminal justice stakeholders from across the county, including police chiefs, judges, prosecutors, public health officials, defense attorneys, and others.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
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