VANDALIA — Effingham and Christian counties are beginning a new way to address nonviolent offenders with mental health problems, especially when they are veterans.

Mental health courts, including a treatment track specifically for veterans, will begin there thanks to a $168,282 grant from Adult Redeploy Illinois Oversight Board, said Chief Judge S. Gene Schwarm of the Fourth Circuit.

The courts will involve different counselors but will use mostly the same team of judges, probation officers, public defenders and prosecutors that work on existing drug courts. One new position would be created for a probation officer.

“This is new for us in the nonurban, more rural areas, and we’re excited about it. Drug courts have been successful. We’ve seen it change lives and people developing life skills and turning their lives around, and hopefully we’re going to have some success with the mental health court as well,” Schwarm said.

The veterans track is specifically designed to deal with issues that veterans commonly face after returning from conflict, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Christian County has a veterans population of 2,772; Effingham’s is 2,731.

Offenders can be nominated for the mental health court by a prosecutor, defense attorney, judge or probation officer, Schwarm said. Prosecutors would have to agree with the nomination, as they do in the case of individuals going into drug court.

The grant lasts for a period of one year but is renewable, Schwarm said. If the program is successful, it could be expanded to other counties. There are nine counties in the circuit: Christian, Clay, Clinton, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Marion, Montgomery and Shelby.

Schwarm said the circuit submitted its grant application May 30 and heard back June 20. The courts are expected to begin within the next 30 days.

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