“Our freedom is not free. There is a price to pay, and some veterans pay with the remaining parts of their lives.”
–Vietnam War veteran, Altorlee Stokes, Jr.
District Attorney Tim Harris is dedicated to the success of the Veterans Treament Court’ s success. He notes of veterans:
“They literally put their lives on the line for us. Once they come into the criminal justice system, they deserve to be looked at in a different way. We want to bring justice and hope to turn their lives around. We want to show some appreciation for what they’ve done.”
The veterans court was created in December of 2008, after Smith observed a similar court in Buffalo, N.Y. and became convinced of its effectiveness.
Smith said “If you have a veteran, and that person can look to the left and the right and see participants who have been through the same experiences, it makes a difference in how that person feels and progresses in the program.”
Common underlying factors are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury related to combat.
“They may be homeless or self-medicating through alcohol or drugs,” Smith said. “Most will be honest about their use. There is no game-playing about that. Most will not ask you for help and are ashamed to be going through the criminal justice system.”
Participants plead guilty to their charges and enter the program, which can take one to three years to complete and involves drug screenings, community service, home visits and job training or employment. If they fail, the sentence passed at the time of the plea will be enacted.
“It’s me or prison,” said Smith.
Veterans organizations and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs help participants get benefits and services.
Shocking Statistic: 90 percent of veterans in the program had not applied for eligible benefits!
Carolyn Hardin, executive director of the National Drug Institute Council, said 20 years of research shows treatment courts make a diference when using evidence-based best practices.
The model court decision will be made in May, but the courts being considered are functioning as the nation’s most effective, Hardin said. Further noting, “We want to see if it is having an impact on the justice system and courts and is beneficial to the community. We are looking at accountability and public safety.”
In addition to Tulsa and Buffalo, the other courts being considered are in San Joes, Calif. and Santa Anna, Calif.
(Info provided from the article “The War at Home” by Ginnie Graham).
Wouldn’t it make sense to set these courts up all over the country? Keeping our veterans out of prison should be a top priority.