Every year in Cook County, over one million criminal cases are filed. They range from low-level misdemeanors to serious felony charges, and everything in between. Most of these cases are heard at the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse located at 2650 S. California in Chicago. Victims, family members, probationers, and the criminal defendants themselves churn through the imposing building, often in need of directions, guidance, or simply a friendly face in an unfriendly setting. Starting this month, court patrons are now able to find all of those things in the Illinois JusticeCorps volunteers who staff the information desk located at the building’s main entrance.
Since 2009 when the CBF launched a pilot program in Chicago, JusticeCorps volunteers have served as an invaluable resource in the courts, helping thousands of court patrons better understand and navigate the legal system. The program has grown over the years, thanks to a partnership with the Illinois Bar Foundation and the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice and the additional support of the Serve Illinois Commission and the Corporation for National and Community Service. The program now covers thirteen courthouses throughout Illinois in eleven different counties. Along with the Leighton Courthouse, the most recent expansion also added new sites in McHenry County and Kane County.
This year, the team of JusticeCorps volunteers staffing the Criminal Courthouse information desk will be led by full-time fellow Grace (Gray) Moreau. Gray is bilingual in English and Spanish, and before moving to Chicago, spent time working with immigrant and other at-risk populations in New Mexico. She also previously volunteered with underserved students in the Denver Public School system. In addition to leading the other JusticeCorps volunteers who will staff the information desk at the Criminal Courthouse this year, Gray assists court staff and legal aid providers with other projects and initiatives.
For almost ten years, the JusticeCorps program has continued to evolve and expand to better reflect and serve the diverse needs of our community. Last year alone, JusticeCorps volunteers served more than 57,000 court patrons in the Circuit Court of Cook County. With the addition of this new site, JusticeCorps volunteers will play a vital role in improving the experience of court patrons in the criminal justice system and ensuring that the courts are welcoming and accessible to all members of our community.