Daily Egyptian

Illinoisans in support of veterans’ courts, poll finds

By Anna Spoerre, @AnnaSpoerre

More than half of Illinoisans would be in support of veterans being tried in special veterans’ courts, according to a recent Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll.

The poll was conducted right before Illinois House Bill 5003, which would amend the Veteran and Servicemembers Court Treatment Act, passed from the Illinois House to the Senate last week.

“Illinois law currently gives chief judges in each circuit the permission to start a veterans’ court,” said Delio Calzolari, associate director of the institute.

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Instead of being tried in the same court as civilians, he said, this law would not just allow but require some veterans — depending on the severity of their crime — to undergo a different hearing.

“The general public does have a sense that veterans face issues that are different from civilians and maybe the justice system should pause and deliberate … the fact that veterans may have issues that civilians do not,” Calzolari said.

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He said some veterans have unique issues that manifest themselves after their service is completed.

The special court would not apply to all veterans, but instead those whose criminality was connected to their military service and who were not charged with violent crimes, said Joe Cervantes, an assistant state’s attorney for Williamson County.  

“Instead of incarcerating them … we would send them to the treatment that they would normally get from the [Marion Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center],” Cervantez said.

Richard Kulich, supervisor of the Veteran’s Justice Outreach Program at the Marion Veterans Affairs, said some people are under the impression that the court is like a “get out of jail free” card for veterans. He said that is not the case.

Kulich said his program prevents the unnecessary incarceration of mentally ill veterans, veterans suffering from substance abuse disorders or traumatic brain injury by helping them to get treatment. 

Although not mentioned in the poll, the implementation of veterans’ courts in the Williamson County first circuit is being considered, Cervantez said. 

“It’s just a matter … of us utilizing the resources that we have in our community to help them out,” he said, referring to the Marion VA.

Of those polled by the Simon Institute, 57 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of Republicans were in support of the bill.

The results also showed most women and those younger than 35 were in favor of the bill.

The institute conducted the scientific poll Feb. 15 through 20 via live telephone interviews of 1,000 registered voters across the state. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. 

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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