- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) - A special court in Madison County has been helping veterans avoid jail since 2009.

Circuit Judge Charles Romani Jr., an Army sergeant during the Vietnam War, began the Madison County veterans court in 2009, the Belleville News-Democrat (https://bit.ly/2a2BZ8D ) reports.

Its goal is to help veterans who face charges because of alcohol and drug problems related to their military service get back on track through intensive Department of Veterans Affairs counseling and aftercare programs. Other forms of assistance can include helping the veteran find a place to live or a job.

“These gentlemen have served,” said Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli. “They offered to give their lives in defending our country. So I think they deserve that extra bit of care and treatment.”

It costs about $6,500 to get a veteran through the program, versus $25,000 to $30,000 per year to lock them in prison, Tognarelli said.

“This is a significant savings to the taxpayer,” he said.

A recent poll by the Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute shows that 54 percent of registered voters in Illinois support a bill that could dramatically expand the scope of veterans treatment courts across the state. In effect, it would require chief judges in each judicial court to establish veterans court programs in their circuit.

There are more than 351 veterans courts in at least 32 states, according to the VA. Nearly 80 such courts were launched in 2014 alone. Madison County’s Veterans Court was the first such court in the state, and the third in the country.

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Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, https://www.bnd.com

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