Veterans would have access to additional court services in Illinois if Gov. Bruce Rauner signs a bill that passed the General Assembly on Monday.
Senate Bill 1238, sponsored in the House by Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Leland Grove), amends the Veterans and Servicemembers Court Treatment Act.
"It provides that, at the discretion of the chief judge in each circuit, that the veterans and service members court program may be operated in one or more counties,” Jimenez said. “Right now, it’s only in one county, so this would expand it to one or more counties in the circuit and allows for veteran and service-member defendants from all counties within the circuit to participate.”
The bill was created by Sen. William Sam McCann (R-Plainview) and removes the limit of one veterans court per circuit. The chief justices of each individual circuit would still maintain power over how many counties are allowed to participate and how many veterans courts may be set up. There are currently 24 circuits that cover all 102 counties in Illinois.
Increasing court access to veterans would allow them to get the help many of them need, McCann said.
Approximately 10 percent of inmates in state prisons are former military personnel. According to a 2007 report from the Pretrial Justice Institute, more than 700,000 veterans nationally are in prison, jail or under correctional supervision. If they are not in prison, they are more likely than any other civilian to be homeless or struggle with debilitating mental illness such, as PTSD and brain damage.
Veterans courts help nonviolent vets who are struggling with mental health problems or drug abuse to reintegrate back into society. A vet charged with a nonviolent offense can go through a rehabilitation or treatment program set up by the court and, as long as he finishes the program while not committing other crimes, those charges are dropped. It’s proven to be an effective program that reduces recidivism.
“These brave men and women have sacrificed so much for their country, I think it’s our duty to make sure we provide easy access to important services such as this,” McCann said.