Walworth County plans veterans court
ELKHORN Walworth County veterans with substance abuse or mental health issues stemming from military service will have an opportunity to minimize the consequences of their criminal behavior beginning shortly after Veterans Day.
Veterans court in Racine County will serve as a treatment program for Walworth County veterans. Some Walworth County veterans already are being served by the veterans court in Rock County.
“ These are veterans who have suffered as a result of their military service and then became involved in criminal activity,” said Andrew Graubard, the district administrator for the Wisconsin Second Judicial District made up of Walworth, Kenosha and Racine counties.
Racine County Judge Gerald P. Ptacek will hear cases from Walworth County as well as Kenosha and Racine counties. The cases will convene in the Racine County Courthouse in
“When a case comes to me, there will have been a plea and conviction,” Ptacek said. “While every case is different, generally I will impose a sentence that includes probation. Conditions of that probation will generally include intense supervision, treatment and self-help meetings.”
The probationary period acts as a diversion program. When defendants graduate from the program, they could see their sentences reduced or otherwise modified depending
on agreements with the prosecutor.
“One of the keys to this program is information,” Graubard said. “It’s critically important that defense attorneys and public defenders know about the program and provide veterans they defend with a questionnaire which determines eligibility.”
Although the court will begin ceremonially on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, cases will not be heard by Judge Ptacek until Wednesday, Nov. 14.
Eligibility will not be offered to defendants convicted of violent and serious crimes such as homicide, armed robbery, sexual assault and arson. The program is intended for veterans convicted of such crimes as drug possession, lower-level drug dealing, burglary and theft.
A similar court has been operating in Rock County for two years. Rock County Judge James Daley, a decorated Vietnam vet and retired brigadier general, said the program has
“First of all, the program benefits the veteran and the community he or she lives in,” Daley said. “The program can mold behavior now to prevent the need later on for law enforcement and court intervention.”
Walworth County veterans who qualify may choose to be heard in either Racine or Rock County. For example, a vet in Delavan may find it easier to travel to the Rock County
Courthouse in Janesville, while veterans in East Troy are closer to Racine.
The veterans court programs are expensive but cost effective, Daley said. Assessment and treatment are provided by the Veterans Affairs Administration, which has a well developed and successful treatment program, Daley said.
“While there’s always a cost, veterans court costs do not fall on local taxpayers,” he said.
Veterans in the program are assigned veteran mentors.
“Veterans have a history of following orders and achieving group goals,” Daley said. “The mentors are also veterans, and they can develop a common basis to talk about issues, some basic such as getting to appointments on time and resolving problems.”
Daley made a case for a veterans court in an article he wrote in support of veterans dealing with health and social issues.
“The purpose of this type of diversion court is to provide services and treatment to a group of veterans who have served their country, many times at great cost to themselves, and who suffer mental illnesses, are struggling with traumatic injuries, or struggling with AODA issues,” he said.
“All or some of these may have resulted from their service in the armed forces during times of conflict.”