Morgan County is looking at various options when it comes to the implementation of a Veteran’s Court, mandated by state legislation passed last year.
The law passed last year requires every judicial circuit throughout the state to have a veterans treatment court in place by January 1st. Veterans court programs are considered special court programs meant to help veterans, particularly those suffering some certain types of mental illnesses, to seek special treatment offered through the program and be represented fairly in the judicial system.
Morgan County State’s Attorney Gray Noll explains the purpose of a veterans court and what it offers.
“If a Veteran gets in trouble with the law and he was eligible and would be placed in this program, there would be specific treatment offered to this individual to address very specific issues that only a veteran might have, PTSD issues, mental health issues. And if an individual then commits crime because of his service in the military, this court would be a way for that individual to avoid further ramifications like prison or extended jail time. The numbers aren’t there like they would be for a drug court, in that, generally speaking, military service doesn’t lead to criminal activity, in fact it usually leads to the exact opposite,” says Noll.
There have been some concerns over whether smaller Illinois counties would have the resources or workload to handle the implementation of veterans courts. As for Morgan County, Noll says that while the decision is not up to his office, there’s a possibility of teaming up with a neighboring county.
“We have been in talks with Sangamon County of perhaps doing a joint court with Sangamon County and Morgan County sharing resources. As far as what Morgan County’s plans are in terms of whether or not we will start our own or join with Sangamon County is not exactly something that I decide. The law dictates that the Chief Judge of the Circuit declares where the Veterans Court becomes active. Since I’ve been State’s Attorney, we’ve had maybe one person that would qualify for this treatment that is available in the Veterans Court program, so I think it makes more sense to share the resources of Sangamon and Morgan, but it’s not up to me,” Noll says.
Noll talks about the overall goal of the State’s Attorney’s office, and how a veterans court fits into that equation.
“The main thing that our office, and really the criminal justice system, wants to do is prevent recidivism. Individuals that keep committing crimes, we want to remove them from our society, but if an individual is committing crimes for some specific reasons, whether that be drug use or issues related to military service, we want to address those issues so we can prevent further criminal activity down the road,” says Noll.
The courts would allow veterans who were honorably discharged to plead guilty to a crime in exchange for a probation sentence that would require frequent court visits and mental health or substance abuse treatment.
Veterans can also apply to have their records expunged upon completing the sentence, and those who use the courts typically face lower level felonies. Noll says he believes Sangamon County could have their veterans court up and running by December.