Ogle County State's Attorney John B. "Ben" Roe is being honored by the MacArthur Foundation-supported Models for Change juvenile justice systems reform initiative as a Champion for Change in juvenile justice reform for his determination to improve the lives of court-involved kids, their families, and communities.
Roe will be recognized at the 4th annual Models for Change national conference in Washington, D.C., this week for his leadership of the Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council, which has forged a strong local partnership dedicated to community safety and positive youth outcomes. Models for Change is the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's $140 million national initiative to reform juvenile justice across the country. Sixteen states are now involved - four working on a range of state and local reforms, and 12 as part of three action networks focusing on disproportionate minority contact, mental health, and juvenile indigent defense.
"Ben Roe has transcended the traditional role of the prosecutor in dealing with juvenile crime," said Shay Bilchik, Director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University Public Policy Institute. "He understands that the prosecutor has a responsibility to serve as more than just the gatekeeper to the juvenile court system, determining which juveniles should be charged with crimes or diverted from the system."
"He has promoted the notion, both through his words and actions, that a prosecutor must serve as a community leader working both to prevent and respond appropriately to juvenile offending," Bilchik continued. "In this regard, he has become an instrumental partner in the MfC initiative, conveying the message to other prosecutors of the importance of supporting this work and the principles embodied therein."
Roe, who is serving his second term as state's attorney of Ogle County in northwestern Illinois, was instrumental in the creation of an agreement that ensures juvenile offenders undergo a professional assessment in the early stage of their contact with the justice system. Information received from the assessment of each juvenile helps determine whether the youth could benefit from a variety of services, including mental health therapy, treatment for drug addictions and family counseling.
As Chair of the Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council, Roe was key to reaching an unprecedented agreement with the judiciary, probation department and public defenders. Signed earlier this year, the agreement stipulates that information gained from the early assessment will not be shared with Ogle County prosecutors - a condition that allows the county to provide counseling without violating any of a juvenile's rights and encourages the juveniles to talk frankly without fear of self-incrimination. The counseling is conducted by a state-licensed therapist on the staff of the Ogle County Probation Department, and the therapist must adhere to the privacy protections of the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act.