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Court for Veterans Keeps Them Out of Prison

Megan Lynch @MLynchOnAir
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File photo of a prison cell. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of a prison cell. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

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EDWARDSVILLE, IL (KMOX) – Odds are, more than half of all offenders released from prison will be arrested again. Yet, one court in the Metro East has cut that figure dramatically.

The Madison County Veterans’ Treatment Court enters it’s fifth year this year.  Less than one percent of it’s graduates have ever ended up back in court.

Instead of incarceration, counseling and treatment are the cornerstone of the program.  Madison County Presiding Criminal Court Judge Richard Tognarelli says most of the offenders spent time in Afghanistan or Iraq – many suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, depression, and drug or alcohol addiction.

“Because of the service they’ve given to the country and because of the types of situations they’ve been placed in, I think there’s an obligation here,” Tognarelli said.  But that obligation, he points out, is balanced with a need to maintain public safety.  “We don’t admit people with violent crimes, for example first-degree murder, any sexual offenses, criminal sexual predatory sexual assaults, armed robberies.”

Tognarelli says the most common offenses are drug possession and theft.  Counseling and treatment are provided through the US Department of Veterans Affairs.  Participants also get help from the Veterans Assistance Commission and, he says, the court also uses donations to assist veterans with basic needs.

If offenders successfully complete the program – which can take up to two years – their offense is taken off their record.  Tognarelli points out that keeping them out of prison for that time saves taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

If the veterans fail to comply with the program, they’re sent back to criminal court.

To honor the founder of the Veteran’s Court, Circuit Judge Charles Romani on his retirement from the bench, and raise funds for the court’s operation, there will be a gala dinner January 29th at SIUE.  The tickets are $75 each and can be ordered from The Veterans’ Court Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) charity, at PO Box 1326, Granite City, IL 62040. More information can be obtained from jjrekowski@co.madison.il.us or 618-692-7474.

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