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September 18, 2012 | 04:41 PMELKHORN — Veterans who are charged with a crime may have an opportunity to clean up their acts before being discharged into the prison system.
Through a new court program, veterans may avoid prosecution or have the consequences reduced by participating in a veterans court program.
Shortly after Veterans Day, the veterans court will launch and serve defendants in Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties. A similar program is already in place in neighboring Rock County.
Veterans from any branch of service are eligible to participate, but they must have a substance abuse or mental health issue that stems from their military service.
If a veteran is charged with some of the most serious crimes, a Class D felony and above, they won't be eligible for the program. That means veterans facing drug possession, small-level drug dealing, identity theft, burglary and other felonies may be eligible. However, veterans facing more serious charges — armed robbery, arson, sexual assault and homicide — couldn't participate.
Andrew Graubard, the district court administrator for the second judicial district, said these veterans will use the treatment programs that are already available to them through Veterans Affairs.
"These are services they would receive through the VA, which they have earned through their military service," Graubard said.
He said many of these same defendants would be eligible for drug or OWI courts.
"We are looking for veterans who suffer due to their military experience," Graubard said.
Similar to OWI and drug courts, a judge will oversee the veterans court and can place sanctions on defendants who fail to undergo required treatment. The defendants also will be assigned a veteran mentor, who will help guide them.
Veterans courts aren't a new idea and about 100 of them exist throughout the country, Graubard said. He also said these types of courts report a 90 percent reduction in recidivism rates.
Graubard said local prosecutors will have a say on whether veterans are eligible for the program.
During the Walworth County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee meeting, Graubard said he is currently looking to begin receiving referrals to the court.
Deputy District Attorney Joshua Grube said before prosecutors begin making referrals to the court, prosecutors will look at victim's rights, the defendant's past criminal behavior and the severity of the offense.
Grube said there is one defendant that Walworth County prosecutors are already considering for the program.
Graubard's district serves Kenosha, Racine and Walworth counties.
The veterans court will be ran out of Racine County.
Veterans participating in the program that live on the west side of Walworth County may be eligible to travel to Rock County to participate in it.