Veterans Courts are a legal avenue out there just for veterans. The first started in Buffalo, New York, several years ago. Since then, at least forty-six cities have recognized the significance of Buffalo’s development and followed suit. Designed specifically to handle nonviolence related crimes by veterans, these courts take a different approach to social rehabilitation.
These courts were started when a Buffalo judge, Robert T. Russell Jr., noticed that many who were shuffled through his courtroom were veterans, and that many of these also had substance dependencies or mental health issues. He began to believe that the behavior which placed these veterans in his court had more to do with untreated effects of their combat service than from criminal intent. With this motivation Russell created the first Veterans Treatment Court.
More like a legally required twelve step program than a court sentence, the rulings made in the veterans court are aimed at getting veterans the help they need to overcome issues that may have pushed them to commit a crime in the first place. After an assessment, and determination that the court’s program is appropriate, the convicted veteran is presented with an option: a place in the treatment program or standing trial. Adherence to the assigned program is enforced through regular court appearances, where either punishment or reward can be dealt out.
Because the court is open to veterans only, it is a reminder to those in it, in all positions, of the service they gave, and the values they held dear during that service. Often, reawakening these values, such as honor, discipline, and pride, are essential steps in the recovery process. Volunteer mentors and the presence of other veterans also help in creating an atmosphere of trust and community.
In its several year history, the Buffalo Veterans Court has had phenomenal success. With about a ninety percent first time success rate, and not a single case of repeated relapses into criminal behavior, this special court is definitely a step in the right direction in helping veterans.
Photo thanks to Tidewater Muse under creative common license on Flickr