Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow talks with U.S. Army Veteran Dennis Mitzner about establishing a Will County Veterans and Servicemembers Court.
JOLIET – Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Will County Chief Judge Gerald Kinney and Circuit Judge Carla Alessio Policandriotes announce the establishment of a Will County Veterans and Servicemembers Court to provide critical treatment, counseling and assistance to local veterans and servicemembers who have struggled with mental health and substance abuse disorders since returning home from military operations.
Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow presents a signed petition to Circuit Judge Carla Alessio Policandriotes to establish a Will County Veterans and Servicemembers Court while Will County Public Defender Frank Astrella looks on.
State’s Attorney Glasgow on Wednesday filed a petition before Chief Judge Kinney and Circuit Judge Policandriotes acknowledging the selfless dedication, courage and patriotism that veterans and servicemembers of all eras have exhibited in the service of the United States.
The petition asked Judge Kinney and Judge Policandriotes to establish a specialized Veterans and Servicemembers Court as authorized under Illinois Statute. Judge Policandriotes entered an order formally establishing the court and accepted the application for the first participant.
These actions are the culmination of more than a year of discussion and planning meetings on how to best serve veterans and servicemembers who come in contact with the criminal justice system.
“We enjoy extraordinary freedoms because of heroic sacrifices by veterans and servicemembers from all branches of our Armed Forces,” said State’s Attorney Glasgow. “Thousands of veterans are returning home today suffering from substance abuse problems or mental health disorders, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression. When they come in contact with the criminal justice system, we have an obligation to acknowledge their service and provide them with the treatment and counseling necessary for them to regain their lives.”
The Veterans and Servicemembers Court will function as a program within the existing Will County Drug Court. Judge Policandriotes, who presides over Drug Court, will also preside over the Veterans and Servicemembers Court. However, it is important to note that the Veterans and Servicemembers Court will accept applicants who suffer from mental health disorders in addition to defendants with drug addictions.
Judge Policandriotes said: “While presiding over Drug Court over the past six years, I have handled many cases in which veterans who bravely served our country would benefit from specialized counseling and treatment to address their very specific needs. Our Veterans and Servicemembers Court will address their concerns by working in partnership with a variety of federal and state agencies that specialize in veterans affairs.”
The Judiciary and the State’s Attorney’s Office will partner with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, the Veterans Assistance Commission of Will County, the Center for Correctional Concerns, the Will County Health Department and the Will County Public Defender’s Office to provide veterans and servicemembers with the treatment and mental health services they need to complete the program and restore their lives.
The National Drug Court Resource Center estimates that 550,000 veterans and servicemembers under the age of 25 suffer from substance abuse and mental health disorders, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and depression. As a result, veterans and servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have been increasingly involved in the criminal justice system.
The Veterans and Servicemembers Court will:
- Assist veterans with honorable or general discharges or current members of the military who suffer from mental illness, mental disorders and/or substance abuse disorders as a result of having served in or having supported a combat theater.
- Offer an inter-agency, collaborative, non-adversarial treatment strategy for veterans in the criminal justice system.
- Provide veterans with a network of state and federal Veterans Affairs Departments in conjunction with social and legal aid agencies to assist with his or her specific issues.
The Veterans and Servicemembers Court will function like Drug Court. In many cases, selected defendants will be required to plead guilty to their crimes upfront before they are allowed into the court. They will be required to remain drug free, submit to random drug tests, find work, follow through with treatment and attend weekly counseling sessions. If they comply with all of the court’s terms, they will graduate and their charges will be dismissed.
In certain cases, the Court may not require a guilty plea upfront, or the State may forego filing criminal charges at all if the participant successfully completes the program.
After assessing the initial need for a Veterans and Servicemembers Court, including staffing requirements and available resources, Chief Judge Kinney determined the initial Court will be most effective as a program of the Will County Drug Court. The need for an independent Veterans and Servicemembers Court will be continually assessed with the goal of establishing an independent Court when it is determined to be necessary.