Three unexpectedly helpful uses of social media

Updated 5/24/2016 9:20 AM

Kane County Judge Clint Hull is "not a big online guy."

Still likes to get his daily news from the papers he picks up in his driveway each morning.


But like many of us, he's been inexorably pulled down the information superhighway.

And that can be a good thing.

Hull provides the first of three examples of social media doing some real good this past week -- in three very different ways.

Aware of our ongoing series on mental health issues, Hull invited the Daily Herald last October to visit the mental health treatment court he presides over, one of 24 in the state. Staff writer Marie Wilson and photographer Laura Stoecker spent a day in the courtroom, and produced compelling profiles of three people with mental health issues sentenced to the program instead of jail.

The judge posted the package on his Facebook page, and saw a record number of "likes" and shares. And more often than not, it was Stoecker's video that really caught people's eyes.

Pretty soon, he was being asked by groups -- including a Rotary club, a church, TriCity Family Services board of directors, St. Charles Mental Health Commission and the Elgin League of Women Voters -- to talk about the program. In it, nonviolent offenders are serving two years probation. They must make regular court appearances, take all necessary medications, and in some cases, find a job and housing. Further, participants must be approved by the state's attorney's office, have an officially diagnosed mental illness and be linked to a treatment provider.

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Those speaking invitations, Hull says, allow him to educate new and varied groups.

"They gave me an opportunity to have a conversation about mental illness in the criminal justice system," he says.

Treatment courts aren't perfect. Wilson's story noted that 16 percent of the suburban graduates reoffend. Another 39 percent fail to complete the program. But Hull points out the recidivism rate of prisoners is about 50 percent, a vastly more expensive means of punishment. "Is that the way we want to spend taxpayers money?" says Hull, who spent the first 17 years of his career as a prosecutor, lest you wonder if this is a man who's done nothing but defend criminals.

Turned himself in

Speaking of crime and social media, has anything changed the landscape more than the abundance of cellphone and security cameras? And the ability to share what they record immediately and widely? A neighbor phone-recorded a minivan veering over the curb and sideswiping a West Chicago man cutting his lawn. The blow knocked him to the ground so forcibly, his shoes flew off. Amazingly, he gathered himself inside his house, and returned to finish the lawn job that afternoon.

The driver of the minivan did not stop, but the matter appears to be resolved. The driver saw the video online, and turned himself in, telling police he thought he had hit only the curb. He'll now get to tell that to a judge.


A lynching in Elgin

Actually, the mural in downtown Elgin depicts only the crowd that witnessed a 1930 lynching in Indiana. And though the free-standing portrait was commissioned more than a decade ago, no one noticed the similarities until two men walked by it last week.

One was reminded of the iconic photo by Lawrence Beitler. He took a shot of the mural with his smartphone, posting it and the 1930 photo in tandem on the public "What's Happening in Elgin" Facebook page.

Reaction so far has been mixed: Some think the mural should be taken down; others say, "What's the fuss?"

But a Friday afternoon protest prompted city leaders to move the mural soon, to a less-conspicuous spot inside the Hemmens Cultural Center. Discussions remain scheduled for June 7 and 13 to consider the future of the mural.

Let's hope that proves to be a good thing, too.

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