BLOOMINGTON — Efforts to address mounting gun violence that claimed nine lives in the Twin Cities last year and another this week in Bloomington may move onto a countywide council's agenda for research and collaboration with other agencies addressing the issue.
The McLean County Criminal Justice Coordination Council (CJCC), formed a decade ago to address overcrowding at the McLean County jail, is comprised of criminal justice and law enforcement officials, attorneys and court services staff.
At the council's meeting on Thursday, Chief Judge Mark Fellheimer said the CJCC's executive committee is considering issues the council may take on in addition to monitoring of the jail population.
"We believe it's time to pivot to new ideas," said Fellheimer.
The committee has talked with local law enforcement officials, said Fellheimer, "to see where we can best be utilized."
Judge Casey Costigan told the group, "we have a lot of decision-makers around this table who can gets things down. If we have an issue that can be addressed, why not tackle it?"
The council's relationship with the Stevenson Center for Community and Business Development at Illinois State University could be a source of data on gun violence issues. Dr. Frank Beck, director of the Stevenson Center, and his students have developed an extensive database on the jail population and other criminal justice issues for the council.
Bloomington Police Chief Clay Wheeler, also a member of the CJCC, said he welcomes the proposed collaboration on gun violence.
Gun crimes often involve young offenders whose bad conduct goes back years. Programs that help put youth on a better path before it's too late are backed by the council and law enforcement, said Wheeler.
"We support the different ways that are available for people to learn from their mistakes," he said, referring to programs that divert people from incarceration.
But police have concerns, said Wheeler, with bond and sentencing reform measures approved for Illinois courts that make it easier for some defendants to be released.
When offenders are allowed to leave jail soon after a violent incident "they're back on the streets before there's been a cooling off period," said Wheeler.
The ongoing gun violence also is a topic for the county's Juvenile Justice Council that named a committee earlier this year to begin looking at the escalating gun incidents involving youth in the community.
The most recent gun-related homicide remained under investigation Thursday by Bloomington police, according to Wheeler. No arrests have been made.
Juan Nash, 25, of Bloomington, died of gunshot wounds in the incident in the 1200 block of Orchard Road. Two others, Scotty Allen, 18, and Nathaniel Caldwell, 25, were critically wounded.
The Stevenson Center delivered positive results to the council on the jail population.
"All of this is good news," Beck told the council during a review of data related to how the jail is being used and the recidivism rate for offenders.
The total number of bookings into the jail is its lowest since 2002, with 3,506 people brought to the jail following an arrest. That number stands in contrast to 2008, the peak year for bookings when 5,215 people were processed into the facility, according to Beck.
The total number of bed days — a measurement of people staying overnight at the jail — also was the lowest in recorded history last year. At 64,859 bed days, the number is a sharp decline from the 98,669 in 2008.
Several factors contribute to fewer people staying in jail, said Beck.
A shift in county policy in recent years to release low-level offenders on bond and use jail space for those accused of felonies plays a major part in the jail numbers, said the ISU researcher. Changes in state law that provide a means for some offenders who cannot post bond to be released also has helped cycle people more quickly through the jail. A reduction in local crime also is a factor in the smaller jail population.
Fewer offenders are returning to the criminal justice system, according to Beck. The overall recidivism rate of 21.9 percent for 2002 through mid-2017 dropped slightly to 21.4 when the final six months of 2018 were added to the data, said Beck. Of 19,518 offenders included in the comparison, 4,194 were charged with a new offense.