Join me and Judge John Phillips (ret.) as Everyday Law delves into Lake County’s specialty courts — including drug court, mental health court and veterans court — which help offenders rehabilitate, rather that just lock ’em up and throw away the key!

Recently retired Judge John Phillips of the Lake County Circuit Court spoke on Everyday Law about specialty or problem-solving courts. Judge Phillips was instrumental in the development of the Drug Court, the Veteran’s Court and the Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring or the Mental Health Court in Lake County. As their names suggest, these courts are meant to help rehabilitate offenders in certain populations, rather than lock ‘em up and throw away the key.

The first specialty court developed was the Drug Court in 2005. The need for such a court became obvious when certain defendants were in a revolving door of sorts; some defendants kept coming before the criminal courts after repeated convictions and sentences. The Drug Court movement started in Miami, Florida. It was apparent that the cause of criminality in many instances, was addiction. Drug Courts attempt to get such defendants involved in beating their addiction. In Lake County, an exploratory committee worked on setting up a felony model for a drug court.

A drug court involves an intensive and therapeutic program of probation. Defendants who are considered for drug court must agree to an intensive 30-month probation program. This involves an inpatient program, halfway house residency, obtaining and keeping a job, mandatory and frequent drug testing and attendance at numerous recovery meetings.

Additionally, it is important to note that studies have shown that 85% of criminal felons will reoffend in 3 to 5 years after their release from prison. This rigorous program has saved lives as well as money as the expense of incarcerating a criminal is $38,000 per year. Graduates of this intensive program attend a graduation ceremony. These graduations are well- attended by County Board members, police chiefs, mayors, family members and sponsors of the graduates.

A second specialty court is the Mental Health or TIM (Therapeutic Intensive Monitoring) Court. This court was developed in 2007. Many individuals get into trouble because their criminality is caused by their mental illness. Statically, most incarcerated people have some kind of mental health issue. A jail is not the optimal place for the mentally ill. The TIM Court uses a team approach to deal with criminally charged individuals with a mental health issue. The biggest issue with such individuals is to get them to become medically compliant; that is to take their prescribed medication and/or stop self-medicating inappropriately. Additionally, effort is made to get housing for these individuals and restore them to their families, if possible. Once an individual complies with the TIM Court’s parameters, it may be possible to dismiss the offense or avoid any jail/prison time.

The third specialty court in Lake County is the Veteran’s Court, which was the third Veteran’s Court in Illinois and was created in 2010. As there are over 30,000 veterans living in Lake County, the creation of a Veteran’s Court was a no brainer, according to Judge Phillips. There is a great Veterans Assistance Commission as well as the Lovell Federal Health Care Center in Lake County which provides services to veterans and the Veteran’s Court. The Court is called “VTAC” (Veterans Treatment and Assistance Court) and any veteran who has been honorably discharged can be considered for entry to the Court. Military service can be the cause of or exacerbate a veteran’s legal problems. The goal of this Court is avoid a prison sentence, or even have the charges dismissed if the veteran agrees to treatment through the program.

Judge Phillips was a driving force behind the creation of the specialty courts in Lake County. He emphasized that it was a team effort and appreciates being in the right place at the right time to be involved with the formation of these problem solving courts. He leaves behind a great legacy and has been a witness to many lives saved because of the Specialty Courts.