EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Veterans court hopes to divert veterans involved in non-violent crimes from prison, to a mentorship and recovery system; the question is, does it actually make a difference?
This court gives veterans a second chance, and nationally it seems to be working. In this courtroom in South Carolina, veterans get assigned a mentor for guidance and are required to come before a judge on a regular basis.
The idea is to address the underlying problems often caused by post-traumatic stress disorder and make the veteran accountable for their behavior.
“Coming home from war, traumatic situations, and many of them mental health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of them numb that through substance abuse. That’s the root of where a lot of their problems stem and they need assistance overcoming that,” said Walt Wilkins, solicitor.
“They have a mentor, they have to come to court every other week at 8:30 in the morning. It’s just a wonderful program. Sometimes we all need somebody to walk alongside of us for a while,” explained Judge Charles Simmons Jr., from Greenville County.
Not every veteran will qualify because it depends on the crime. In Pennsylvania, if it’s a crime of violence or a sexual assault, including children, the veteran cannot be part of the program. But if the crime is associated with a disability related to service to America, there’s a good chance of success.
“The core of the success is veterans helping veterans, people who either graduated from the program, suffer from use disorder, or have been in the situation to give back to the community to help other veterans and it’s widely successful simply because of that camaraderie they experienced in the past,” Mark Powell, District Attorney of Lackawanna County.
Pennsylvania’s first veteran’s treatment court opened in Lackawanna County in 2009.