ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- This year alone, nearly three thousand domestic violence cases cycled through Winnebago County and Boone County's court system. Even the U.S. Department of Justice has taken notice and gave the county 300-thousand dollars to help tackle the problem. The grant makes the court's first-ever Domestic Violence Division.
It’s being called “one family one judge.” Starting in January, one judge will hear criminal domestic violence cases and one judge will hear protective order cases. Hopefully that will mean better safety for victims.
Winnebago County is the only place in the country to get a grant to create a Domestic Violence Division. It was enough money to hire a former prosecutor to oversee all of the cases and make sure nothing slips through the cracks. It will be the first time a judge in the civil courts will be specifically trained to hear cases involving family violence.
17th Circuit Judge the Honorable Rosemary Collins said, "It's an extraordinarily large amount of cases and it's going to be a challenge for our judges. We can't over load these judges at the beginning or this system will break down."
Another problem has been deciding which cases qualify as domestic violence cases. Lots of cases may come in as damage to property or trespassing when there's really an underlying family violence issue. Now there's a full-time case manager to help make sure the people who need help are in the right place to get it.
There are about 120 thousand domestic violence cases in Illinois each year.
The court is hoping local private attorneys will step up next year and donate their services to help speed up hearings.