February 06, 2015

Eckert to deliver Beatty jurist-in-residence lecture

by Pete Rosenbery

Annette EckertCARBONDALE, Ill. -- Retired Judge Annette A. Eckert will discuss the impact of problem-solving courts when she visits the Southern Illinois University School of Law next week. 

Eckert, the 2015 William L. Beatty Jurist-in-Residence, will speak to various classes while at the law school, Wednesday through Friday, Feb. 11-13. Eckert, who served as an associate and then circuit judge for Illinois’ 20th Judicial Circuit, will present her lecture, “Problem Solving Courts,” at 5 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 12, in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building Auditorium. There is no admission and the lecture is open to the public.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to cover the lecture.  To arrange for interviews or for more information on the event, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communication and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

As judge, Eckert created and directed several of the problem-solving courts in the judicial circuit comprised of Monroe, Perry, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties. The initial problem-solving court in St. Clair County involved domestic violence cases and began in 1996. Eckert will discuss the costs, both monetarily and social, of incarceration and how problem-solving courts, such as for drug, domestic violence and mental health cases, help to address those challenges. 

Eckert retired as resident circuit judge in St. Clair County in 2010. For the last eight of her 20 years as judge, she presided over felony cases. She remains active, serving as director of the county’s teen court, and serving as an instructor in criminal justice and recruitment adviser at Lindenwood University-Belleville. 

Eckert said the purpose of problem-solving courts is to promote outcomes that benefit offenders and society. By treating underlying issues that result in criminal behavior, the less likely a person is to commit further crimes, she said.  Eckert points to a 2013 Pew Research Study projecting federal prison costs would reach $6.9 billion by the end of 2014, and that prison-related budgets are the second fastest growing expense to state budgets. 

Texas, which planned to build three new prisons about a decade ago, scrapped those plans and instead put the funds toward drug courts and treatment. The result was a lower crime rate and 3 percent decrease in inmates, allowing the state to close three prisons, she said.  In South Carolina, creating alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders including community drug treatment and mental health service resulted in a drop in prison population by 8 percent. 

In Cook County, Eckert said, there are 21 adult problem-solving courts and the savings total $15 million annually in custody costs. 

“We have the best justice system in the world,” she said. “Just because we do it well doesn’t mean we can’t do it better.” 

The Beatty Jurist-In-Residence program is one of three the law school created from proceeds received in 2004 from the settlement of a multi-million dollar national class action consumer protection lawsuit. The program honors the late Justice Beatty, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court of Southern Illinois who died in 2001. 

Eckert, of Belleville, said she’s “humbled and thrilled” to be the jurist-in-residence. A graduate of the DePaul University College of Law, Eckert initially practiced as an assistant public defender in Chicago before moving to private practice in Belleville. 

“I practiced in front of Judge Beatty when I was a practitioner and very much respected him as a jurist and a gentleman,” she said.