IPSN Issue, May 18, 1997
Dick Devine Calls For an Overhaul
of the Cook County Juvenile System
Recent reports in the reduction of violent crime are welcome news to Cook County State’s Attorney Richard A. Devine, but his experience in government tells him this is no time to relax or let up.
Crime rates in Cook County have dropped for the fifth straight year dating back to 1992.
The Illinois State Police report that violent crime in the Chicago metropolitan area and surrounding Cook County dropped 11 per cent in 1996. Across the state there was a 10 per cent reduction in violent crime.
“This is a clarion call for law enforcement,” Devine commented after reviewing the statistics for the past 12 months. “Crime in Cook County and across Illinois is decreasing; now is the time to recommit ourselves to making our streets, schools, and homes safer.”
Since taking office in December, Devine has been tirelessly meeting with police and community organizations throughout Cook County.
“There is an incredible commitment by law enforcement to work with communities,” the State’s Attorney noted. “In part, this stems from the level of inter-agency work as evident in the prosecution of Larry Hoover.”
Hoover, along with six other high-level Gangster Disciple members, was indicted for heading a narcotics ring from his prison cell that grossed more than $100 million a year. (See accompanying IPSN story). The charges were the result of a joint investigation by numerous law enforcement agencies including the Cook County State’s Attorney and U.S. Attorney Jim Burns.
Two veteran prosecutors from the state’s attorney’s Gang Crimes Unit, Bernard Murray and David Styler, were cross-designated as special assistant U.S. attorneys for the prosecution of Hoover and his cohorts. “The prosecution of gang activity is paramount,” noted Devine. “It is clear that the combined efforts of law enforcement enables us to go beyond the street thugs and get to the hierarchy of the gangs.”
On other fronts in his 950-attorney office, Dick Devine has established an innovative and aggressive Domestic Violence Unit to prosecute stalking, domestic battery, and other domestic violence cases that fill the court dockets each year.
Devine’s office also obtained a $539,460 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice under the Violence Against Women Act to fund a special prosecution team in Chicago.
The team will focus on high-risk cases with a history of violence, and provide these victims outside legal assistance from Life Span, a not-for-profit provider of legal services, and an advocate from Hull House, the famous social service agency on the Near West Side. This team will provide on-site consultation to victims about obtaining civil remedies from abusers.
“Domestic violence is different from other crimes that prosecutors typically handle,” said Devine.
“It can be overwhelmingly difficult for victims to seek help from us when their abusers are entwined in their lives. This effort enables us to provide greater protection for those women, children, seniors, and even some men for whom home is not a refuge but a prison.”
The Domestic Violence Unit will consist of 22 prosecutors and victim-witness assistance specialists (the office’s Gang Crimes Unit has 24 prosecutors).
Each felony case will be handled “vertically” – from investigation to sentencing – by a trained prosecutor.
The unit will also work closely with the Cook County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and Chicago’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Council to ensure that victims receive the help they need. Pam Paziotopoulos, a specialist in domestic violence and stalking, has been named to head the domestic unit.
She has served as an attorney in the research and training division of the National District Attorney’s Association. From 1993 to 1995, she was the domestic violence coordinator for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Devine has also added to his team of prosecutors, Catherine Ryan, a Franciscan nun who graduated from Northwestern University Law School, to head the Juvenile Justice Bureau.
In 1989, the lawyer-nun chaired the Chicago Bar Association committee that criticized the juvenile justice system in Cook County for waste and inefficiency, suggesting that the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) be abolished.
Devine and Ryan have been examining overdue changes to the state’s juvenile code, making the laws pertinent to modern-day juvenile offender crimes.
“An overhaul of the Juvenile code is sorely needed,” Devine emphasized.
“There is a growing number of delinquency petitions and cases of abuse and neglect, yet all too often we are dealing with antiquated structures that were developed long, long ago. In 1999, the Cook County Juvenile Court will mark its 100th anniversary; change is upon us.”