Several local circuit courts still are not in compliance with the law, according to a local attorney. A law passed in 2017 required all circuit courts in Illinois by January 1st, 2018 to have a veterans treatment court operational for honorably discharged veterans charged with crimes. The courts allow veterans who were honorably discharged to plead guilty to a crime in exchange for a probation sentence. Veterans also can apply to have their records expunged upon completing the sentence. Those who use the courts typically face lower level felonies.
Local attorney and veteran Tyson Manker who spoke about his own case in front of federal court last week expressed his displeasure in local leadership’s abilities to get the courts established in the region.
Manker says that cost should not be an issue to local circuit courts, as the Illinois law establishes a method of funding the extra court through a $5 service fee for every trial in the court. Manker says it acts much like drug probationary courts and first offender hearings in circuit courts.
Many of the counties in the area have pushed back against the idea saying that a lack of need and a lack of resources has not made it necessary to set up the courts despite being in non-compliance. Those who work in veterans treatment courts say they’re more informal and less adversarial than typical courtrooms and veterans who go through a treatment program have less of a chance of re-offending according to preliminary data about their effectiveness. A team of attorneys, probation officers and treatment professionals with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs work together on behalf of defendants.
Manker says that it’s a bit of a slap in the face by local lawmakers who stand up and are recognized at Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies and do nothing. He says it’s something he is going to continue to push for in the near future by continuing to talk to and lobby local leaders.
Several candidates running for State’s Attorney in the area circuits have given mixed answers on whether they would be in support of setting up the courts locally. Many have said that they would be willing to set up agreements with other counties to have a regional veteran’s court so it remains cost effective for their county courtrooms.