Legally Speaking: Joe Gordon

Legally Speaking: Joe Gordon

In Illinois, the Legislature has mandated that for most crimes, judges should first consider giving an offender a community-based sentence. The job of overseeing people sentenced to probation falls to the Champaign County Probation and Court Services office.

Court Services Director JOE GORDON supervises a staff of about 62 at the Juvenile Detention Center and in adult and juvenile probation at the courthouse.

With just over 40 years of experience in his rearview mirror, Gordon plans to retire in late June.

He talked with staff writer Mary Schenk about the integral role that probation officers play in the justice process.

As probation officers, part of your job is to get people the help they need to redirect criminal behavior, right?

"We've always felt like we couldn't be the experts in mental-health and substance-abuse issues, but we could recognize there might be an issue and go ahead and make the referral and let the experts in the community address those issues.

"With this community, we are very fortunate. We are rich in resources, in comparison to many other communities. The problem we have experienced is not so much the resources not being available. It's more of getting individuals to appear and comply when they are referred."

Regarding mental health resources specifically: "I don't think we have enough for the number of individuals presenting themselves to the court system."

How has the approach to punishing juveniles changed during your career?

"On the juvenile side, it seems like there are more alternatives for diversion for juveniles.

"You have the police, who do the formal station adjustments, and we have the Youth Assessment Center here in town. It has taken some of the pressure off the juvenile justice system and allows the juvenile justice system to deal with the more difficult cases: mob actions, aggravated batteries. Our numbers really are down on the juvenile side."

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