Jackson County’s top prosecutor said he plans to improve case management and work closer with victims’ advocates to increase the number of rape and sexual abuse prosecutions.
Eighty-seven percent of felony sex crimes reported to police in Jackson County over a nine-year period never reached a courtroom, according to a recent investigation by the Belleville News-Democrat.
“You’d have to be blind not to look at the raw numbers and say to yourself, ‘What are we missing?’” State’s Attorney Mike Carr said.
The series, called “Violation of Trust,” reported that from 2005-13 across a 32-county region of Southern Illinois, 70 percent of reported felony sex crimes — sexual assault, or rape, and sexual abuse — were not prosecuted. In some of the largest counties, prosecution failure rates were much higher — 87 percent in Jackson County and 82 percent in St. Clair County.
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Carr’s office is developing an Automated Case Management System using an $80,000 grant that will eventually allow his prosecutors to “identify hotspots over time.” These would include identifying particular aspects that show up repeatedly in cases, like an alleged perpetrator and victim knowing each other or where alcohol affected a victim’s ability to accurately remember what occurred. It would also allow him to identify criminal histories of suspects, witnesses and defendants, Carr said.
Police also will be encouraged to seek out prosecutors’ assistance to get search warrants, wire taps and other investigative tools to corroborate the victim’s story.
“We need police to investigate properly,” he said. “I don’t want to force someone to court when they don’t want to go,” Carr said of victims who may be hesitant, especially in cases where the primary facts consist of statements from the victim and the accused.
Only 8 percent of sex crimes in Carbondale were prosecuted, according to the BND’s findings.
After reading the series, Acting Carbondale Mayor Don Monty said he wanted to get a better feel for what prosecutors look for when making a decision to charge a rape case, especially a case with an adult victim.
“I want to understand what they think they have to put in front of a jury to get a conviction,” Monty said.
The Carbondale Police Department takes sex crimes cases seriously, Monty said, and they conduct good and thorough investigations.
“I believe that our police department investigates the cases fully; when they get to the state’s attorney’s office, that’s where they end,” Monty said.
Jane Adams, a Carbondale City Councilwoman and candidate for mayor, called the city’s prosecution numbers “woefully low.”
“As mayor, I would be in a better position to know our police and state’s attorney’s handling of sexual assault and domestic violence,” she said.
The latest prosecution records show that in 2014, Carr’s office brought seven felony sex crime cases to court, compared with four in 2013, his first full year in office. The county averages about 65 felony sex crimes reported to police per year.
“We start out with the proposition that we believe the person,” Carr said of victims, but he said this isn’t usually enough for a conviction.
In St. Clair County, where the prosecution failure rate was 82 percent, State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly has proposed a four-point plan that centers on real time, online monitoring of crimes at all 29 police departments in the county. The online program is being developed and will be augmented by development of a sex crime investigation protocol, or “vertical prosecution,” where the prosecutors who initially receive the case follow it through to resolution. The program also will feature full-time prosecutor “responders” who can quickly show up at a sex crime around the clock.
Carr said he met Monday with Cathy McClanahan, director of the Women’s Center in Carbondale, who said previously victims often don’t push for prosecutions because they believe nothing will happen. She was upbeat after the meeting with Carr and victim advocates concerning ways to get more sex crimes before judges.
“The meeting yesterday ended up very positive and we’re looking for ways to bring people together in the entire system to look at the issue and where the system is breaking down,” McClanahan said.
The BND series also reported that the 52 felony sex crimes reported during the nine-year period at Southern Illinois University Carbondale led to just five prosecutions and two prison terms.
Rae Goldsmith, campus spokeswoman, said that cases referred to the county state’s attorney’s office often were rejected for lack of evidence.
“The university continues to take seriously its responsibilities in all aspects of sexual assault: education, support, internal and police investigations as appropriate, and reporting of findings of police investigations to the state’s attorney,” she said.