Programs: Ford County Accountability Conferencing Program
Year started: 1999
Neutrals: Volunteers from the community
Eligibility: Juvenile and adult first-time misdemeanor offenders
Pro bono services available?: no
The Ford County Accountability Conferencing Program was established in May 1999 by the Probation Department as an alternative method to address crimes committed by first time adult and juvenile offenders (the majority of the offenders are juveniles). A requirement for diversion into the program is that the offender accepts responsibility for the crime. The conference is therefore a forum for apology and restitution, not for a determination of guilt. The conferences bring together the offender, the victim, and the community to discuss the crime that was committed and its effects on the victim, the victim's family, the offender's family, and the community at large. The arresting police officer also usually attends. If parties have obtained legal counsel, that counsel is asked if they are attending to not act in a legal role but only in a support position. Together, those involved decide what future actions the offender should take in order to repair the harm to both victim and community that the crime has caused. In addition to restitution and apology, community service and treatment for substance abuse have been the actions to which they have most often agreed. Once there is an agreement as to what action should be taken, all those present sign a contract, which generally lasts from one to six months. The fulfillment of the contract is usually monitored by the Probation Department, although community members have on occasion agreed to monitor the progress of and mentor the offender.
Each conference is directed by one or two volunteer facilitators who have completed a training program certified by the court. Currently, the training is done in-house in a 40-hour format. One probation officer is currently staff part-time to act as a facilitator, while the rest are volunteers from many different backgrounds and fields. There are approximately 30 trained volunteers, with 5 to 6 acting on a regular basis. Often, facilitators are chosen for a lack of knowledge of the case or participants, and if necessary, facilitators from neighboring communities are brought in.
Cases referred post-adjudication are referred either by the judge or the state's attorney and is often mandatory. Cases that are diverted pre-adjudication have been reviewed by the probation office in concert with the states attorney to decide if the case is suitable for conference. In these cases, the offenders are asked if they wish to participate; it is not compulsory. The conference itself usually lasts one hour, but no time limit is set. A few cases have necessitated a follow-up or additional conference. Approximately ten cases are handled per year with an agreement/contract success rate at around 80-85%. The protocols for the conference are set by the state's attorney and the county judge.
For more information about this program, contact:
Ford County Courthouse
200 W. State St.
Paxton, IL 60957
phone: (217) 379-2221