BLOOMINGTON — A veterans court scheduled to open next year will offer service members an opportunity to address mental health conditions that may have contributed to their alleged criminal misconduct.
Judge Robert Freitag told the McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Wednesday that planning is underway for a veterans court in the 11th Judicial Circuit, which includes McLean, Livingston, Logan, Tazewell and Ford counties.
The number of eligible defendants may be small, said Freitag, but "clearly we do have veterans who become involved in the criminal justice system who will benefit from this program."
Representatives from the five counties have been working on plans for the court, which would be open to qualifying non-violent offenders. The group will visit existing veterans court in Effingham and Peoria next month.
The new state law mandating a veterans court in each judicial circuit is not without some hurdles, said Freitag, including the logistics of getting clients to the specialty court. Freitag is a military veteran.
The veterans courts will be similar to those for defendants with mental health and substance abuse issues. A probationary term would include requirements for treatment and cooperation with efforts by the court team to help the offender obtain housing, employment and other services.
The first veterans court opened in the United States in 2008 in New York and now includes 350 in 32 states. Madison County opened the first veterans court in Illinois in 2009.
In other matters, the justice council reviewed a report on use of the county and recidivism rates for offenders.
Bookings for felonies in 2017 have been the lowest since 2013, while misdemeanor bookings are slightly higher than last year, according to the study. The number of beds days — a measurement of overnight stays — for felonies is similarly down.
The ISU Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development conducted the study at the request of CJCC, which wanted to examine recidivism rates for convictions in McLean County between 2002 and 2017.
The report indicates that of the 18,521 people convicted of felony or misdemeanor charges, 21.9 percent, or 4,053 offenders, were convicted of a new offense. The calculations include all cases where a person is convicted of a misdemeanor or felony within two years of a previous conviction, during probation, or within two years of their previous probation period.
Narrowing the review to those who picked up a new offense within two years following completion of probation puts the recidivism rate at 28 percent for 1,131 offenders.
The criminal justice council is comprised of judges, attorneys and others who are involved or interested in the operation of the criminal justice system.