"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
While Judge (Ret.) Annette Eckert may argue that she hasn't changed the world, she has definitely changed our community. If you have spent even a few minutes with her, you know Judge Eckert doesn't just talk about change, she will put on a hard hat and make it happen.
As a founding member of the VPC's Board of Directors, Judge Eckert understood the community's need for an agency dedicated to serving survivors of domestic violence. Her advocacy and hard work have helped change the landscape for survivors in St. Clair County. She served on the planning committee that grew the VPC's shelter from a 5 room home to an 80,000 square foot/35-bed emergency shelter and counseling center. She spent many weekends wearing that hard hat to clear debris and prep for the renovation of the donated building. As a jurist, her advocacy created a Domestic Violence Courtroom offering survivors a safe and supportive experience. She trained future officers on domestic violence topics through the police academy. Her impact on survivors of domestic violence is truly immeasurable.
While still, a strong advocate for survivors, today, Judge Eckert is focused on changing the lives of the teens in our community through the St. Clair County Teen Court. The Teen Court offers an alternative approach to juvenile justice that holds first-time non-violent youth offenders accountable through a sentence imposed by their peers. Upon recommendation by the St. Clair County States Attorney and with approval from their guardian, a teen enters the program, where a jury of teen peers review police reports, listens to testimony from the teen and their families, and then asks questions to understand their background and any underlying causes of their crime. Facilitators of Teen Court started noticing that teens tend to tell their peers more than they would law enforcement. Understanding the motivations and aspirations of the teens allow their peers to tailor the remedies to each individual to make the most impact. Some remedies include community services, written apologies, reading a book and completing an essay, investigating future careers. All remedies must be completed in 90 days to graduate from the program and stop criminal charges from being filed.
Over the 5 years, that Teen Court has operated 200 teens have successfully completed the program. Thanks to Judge Eckert's vision, these teens know now that they are not their crime. According to Judge Eckert, "Now more than ever, teens need help to understand and deal with the trauma they may be experiencing that caused them to commit a crime." Teen Court allows teens to be connected with the help they need through community partners like the VPC. Without the burden of a criminal record, the graduates of Teen Court have the opportunity to heal and work towards their dreams.
We at the Violence Prevention Center are grateful for all of Judge Eckert's work in our community and our agency.
To learn more about teen court visit www.teencourtfoundationscc.com