Publication: Kenosha News
by Jessica Stephen [email protected]
WIND POINT — Organizers outlined a four-phase veterans treatment court for the Kenosha County area on Tuesday.
The Second Judicial District of Wisconsin Veteran’s Treatment Court will be the first of its kind in our region and one of only about 100 nationwide.
“This is a great opportunity to help those people who have fought for us and also just generally help the community and stop recidivism,” said Charles Bennett, manager and lead attorney with the Kenosha County Public Defender’s Office.
Bennett was one of nearly two dozen area court officials, veterans’ workers and others who attended a press conference officially announcing the court at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread facility.
Before the announcement, organizers spent the day working out final details for the court, which diverts former military members from traditional outcomes like probation, jail or prison, toward alcohol and drug treatment, mental health services and job and educational programs coordinated through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Some decisions must still be made.
For instance, organizers weren’t sure when weekly treatment court sessions would be held. They also haven’t chosen a permanent home for the court, although Racine County Circuit Judge Gerald Ptacek predicted he would begin overseeing sessions in his courtroom in Racine County. Another judge could eventually take over.
“We’ve had discussion about Kenosha as a location as well,” Ptacek said.
One factor in choosing a home for the court could be the number of veterans in the program and the cities those veterans call home. If Racine County has more veterans enrolled than Kenosha or Walworth counties, that might be the logical location for the court, although nothing has been decided, organizers said.
In order to be eligible for the program, organizers said they’re looking for vets with at least 90 days service in any military branch. Dishonorable discharges will be considered, but only on a case-by-case basis. Veterans also must have a diagnosed mental health or alcohol and/or drug dependency.
No homicide, sexual assault or stalking cases will be considered. In fact, no felonies above Class D, such as child enticement or some drug offenses, will be accepted. Child abuse cases will be reviewed individually.
Screening for participation in the program will begin when veterans are arrested or booked into jail. Further screening will follow at the jail within 24 hours. And the district attorney will review veterans’ cases within 72 hours.
Although screening will start within hours of an arrest, veterans will not officially begin treatment and monitoring through the veterans court until later. That’s because the court will use a post-conviction model, which means veterans must plead to a crime and be sentenced to probation in order to participate in the program.
Monitoring for the veterans court will take place at the same time as probation, partly because the court does not have the funding to monitor independently, Ptacek said; the state Department of Corrections is funded to supervise probation and can layer Veterans Treatment Court requirements into that monitoring.
As a condition of probation, veterans must successfully complete the court. If they fail, they would serve jail time. A judge would set the amount of jail time at sentencing, but that time would only be served if probation was not completed.
Treatment during the program will be available from Veterans Administration hospitals in Madison, Milwaukee and North Chicago. Treatment will be funded through veterans’ benefits, existing programs within the Department of Corrections and private insurance.
Some costs could be paid by veterans. Grants are also possible in the future.
Length of participation Veterans will advance through the program in four phases: four weeks, two months, five months and 12 to 16 months.
Organizers expect that veterans will participate in the program up to 18 months, since that is the longest period of probation allowed by law; anything beyond that would be community supervision as part of a prison sentence. However, Ptacek said, the veterans court team would review individual cases for possible extensions, if needed.
The program will start with weekly court visits, but those court sessions will taper off to once each month toward the end of the program. At each phase, veterans will be expected to undergo drug and alcohol testing at least twice each week. Housing will be required, and veterans can expect at least one home visit per month. Veterans will meet with mentors and participate in support meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous, at least twice each week. Veterans also must develop a job and/or education program and, within five months of starting the program, be employed or enrolled in school.
Before veterans graduate from the program, veterans will participate for at least 90 days as alumni. Details about that part of the program where not outlined Tuesday.
Up to 25 veterans will be able to participate in the program, although only one veteran is needed to start the program.
Area court official said they looked forward to the court’s debut around Veterans Day in November.