Judge Helps Struggling Women Overcome Their Personal ‘War’

By Jenniffer Weigel
Chicago Tribune.

CHICAGO

It’s a Friday morning in Courtroom 206 at the Cook County Criminal Courts Building, and Associate Judge Rosemary Grant Higgins is getting an update on the progress of one of her cases.

“It looks like you’ve really taken to the program,” Higgins says, shuffling through reports as she looks down from her bench at the woman standing in front of her. “Do you have anything to say to the court?”

The woman, who had pleaded guilty to prostitution and successfully received treatment and counseling for drug addiction through the WINGS program (Women in Need of Gender Specific Services), turns to face several other women from Cook County Jail who sit handcuffed in blue or pink jumpsuits.

“Until you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, you’re never going to change your life,” she says with confidence, making eye contact with the members of the group who will look at her. “No judge or sheriff is going to make it happen. You need to be sick and tired emotionally, sick and tired physically, and sick and tired spiritually.”

As the defendant walks out of court, Higgins leads a round of applause, something she does for all of the women who make significant progress through WINGS, a program at the Circuit Court of Cook County’s Criminal Division that was launched in 2011.

Higgins was part of the team that developed the program, which included private attorneys, state’s attorneys, probation officers, social service providers and community-based treatment providers. The intensive two-year program gives women who are arrested and plead guilty to prostitution charges the opportunity to attend rehabilitation and receive counseling and job training.

“Monday through Thursday, I deal with other crimes, murder, rapes, robberies, drugs, but Fridays is dedicated to WINGS,” says Higgins, 60.

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