The McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will expand its focus to include youth at risk for criminal activity and those who have been involved in violence, Judge Mark Fellheimer told the council Friday.
The council’s initial charge of monitoring the county jail’s population will remain, said Fellheimer, chief judge of the 11th Judicial Circuit, but the ongoing challenges of addressing youth violence, much of it involving guns, will become part of the council’s efforts.
State’s Attorney Don Knapp and Public Defender Carla Barnes have proposed a “triage” approach that includes collaboration among law enforcement and community groups to reach youth before violence erupts, said Fellheimer.
Andrew Held, director of the City Life program, may become the point person for such a joint effort.
Held told council members the shootings that have rocked the Bloomington-Normal area in the past several years involve youth who face myriad challenges in their lives. Reducing the violence begins “with being where the kids are,” said Held, and identifying their needs and the resources available to help them lead productive lives.
“We can’t do what we do alone,” said Held.
Funds are needed to support the City Life program and the Western Avenue Community Center where youth meet for mentoring and other programs. Volunteers also are critical to the success of intervention efforts, said Held.
Youth crave consistency in their lives—something often missing from broken and single-parent homes—so having the steady support from committed adults on an ongoing basis makes a difference, said Held.
“They really don’t have anyone championing them,” Held said of at-risk youth.
For its part, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will support a model that brings agencies together to provide youth services. The U.S. attorney’s office for the central district of Illinois in Springfield has met with the council to discuss federal assistance in similar programs in other central Illinois communities.
A new court services program targets young adults ages 18-21, Susan Montoya, deputy director of county juvenile court services, told the council.
The Emerging Adults Program currently has a caseload of 49 clients who receive mentoring and services aimed at addressing their specific needs. Two probation officers are assigned to the program.
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