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Grundy County works on establishing a mental health court

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Grundy County was represented at the nation’s first Veteran’s Court Conference last week in Washington, D.C.

State’s Attorney Jason Helland and problem solving case manager Mitch Conwell attended the conference from Dec. 2 to Thursday where “Justice for Vets” provided training and technical assistance to more than 100 veterans treatment courts across the nation, according to a news release from Helland.

The conference addressed substance abuse and mental health issues with veterans and how to keep those who served out of the criminal justice system and instead provide them needed treatment. The conference was tailored to enhance the skills, leadership, and training of a veterans treatment court team and working with justice-involved veterans.

Sessions covered planning, implementation and operations for a veterans court. The first veterans court in the United States was established in 2008 in Buffalo, N.Y. In 2010, the Illinois Veterans and Service Members Court Treatment Act was passed.

The courts divert eligible veteran-defendants with substance dependency and/or mental illness to a specialized court docket, according to the news release. Those who qualify are charged with felony or misdemeanor nonviolent criminal offenses.

Veterans are identified through assessments and voluntarily participate in a judicially supervised treatment plan developed with the veteran and a team of court staff, veteran health care professionals, peer mentors and mental health professionals.

Recently, Grundy County received a planning grant from Illinois Adult Redeploy for a mental health court, and the county has six months to apply for an implementation grant.

“Anyone who knows anything about these problem-solving courts know that they work and will save taxpayer money,” Helland said in the news release. “These courts are proven to reduce crimes, provide us with safer communities and let participants lead more productive lives after we give them the structure, treatment and services that they so desperately need. Veterans have [gone] to war for our freedom and at times the criminal justice system needs to go to war for the veterans’ freedom.”

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