Hays County Courthouse, San Marcos, TX – Hays County is stepping up to help veterans charged with misdemeanor offenses who are suffering from mental illness, traumatic brain injury and/or substance abuse related to military hazardous duty. The County will offer a separate Veterans Court for first time, qualified misdemeanor offenders beginning this spring.
“The Hays County Commissioners Court, which unanimously approved the creation of the Veterans Court, is proud to give back in this way to those who have so graciously and unselfishly served us,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe.
“This type of Court will help to treat the reason the problem exists and give the offender an incentive to succeed,” said Hays County Veteran Services Officer Jude Prather. “The Veterans Court program is designed to provide services and supervision to veterans with a diagnosed substance abuse and/or mental health issue and improve access to needed treatment and services for jailed veterans.”
First-time offenders who meet the program’s eligibility requirements will be allowed to participate in a wraparound program that will identify their needs, set them up with resources and monitor their progress for up to two years, Prather said, noting that he expects he program will help reduce recidivism among veterans.
“Our goal is to recognize which offenders have a bona fide need for treatment and services that they aren’t currently getting and give them an opportunity to go through a strictly supervised program in a military-style civilian setting that can keep them out of jail and get them back on the road to the quality of life they deserve,” Prather said. “Many veterans are still unaware that they have benefits from their military service that can help them overcome some of the problems that led them to become offenders, and still others simply don’t want to admit that they could use some help. This program will give them one chance to take advantage of these benefits, follow the guidelines set out for them and ultimately have their offense removed from their record.”
“It will be an honor to preside over this specialty court and to help our veterans who chose service over self to keep America safe,” said County Court-at-Law #2 Judge Linda Rodriguez. Her courtroom is located at the Hays County Government Center, 712 S. Stagecoach Trail, San Marcos.
Prather and a team of area specialists used programs developed in Bexar, Smith and Travis counties as the backbone for the Hays County program. The Hays County Commissioners Court, District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Veteran Services Office and Grants Administration Department worked closely with the Scheib Mental Health Center, the Attorney General’s Office, U.S. Veterans Administration and Justice Outreach of the South Texas Health Care System of San Antonio to develop and implement the program.
The County plans to use state and federal grants to fund the program, which may eventually be expanded to serve veterans who commit more serious crimes. Section 617 of the Texas Health and Safety Code authorizes the establishment of Veterans Courts.