The appellate court system in the state of Pennsylvania is planning to expand a pilot program that weighs the issues veterans deal with when returning to civilian life when determining jail time for minor violations, according to The Bucks County Courier Times.
The program began back in November in Centre County and it has been used to give some veterans facing summary offenses an option to undergo supervised treatment instead of spending time in jail. Two examples of such offenses include disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.
On January 1, the counties of Westmoreland and Monroe will join the program. With the fifth-highest concentration in the country, Pennsylvania has over one million veterans.
“Veterans have earned the right for consideration,” said Pennsylvania Office of Administrative Courts spokesman Art Heinz. “There is evidence that some of (veterans’) misbehavior is the direct result of their service.”
Heinz said that each county’s district attorney will determine whether or not a veteran who faces a minor criminal charge will be allowed to enter into the diversion program.
“The program targets behavior that’s just starting to show issues,” he said. “There’s a good bit of latitude for district attorneys (to determine whether a veteran would be helped by participating in the program). Cases are not always black and white.”
The state also has veterans courts, which are three-years-old. The diversion program is going to be an add-on to those courts in the state. The courts treat veterans who are dealing with mental illness, addiction and other issues or disorders. Veterans in veterans courts are usually there for more serious criminal charges than those who are taking part in the diversionary program.
In November of 2009, the first veterans court opened in Lackawanna County. Since then, there have been 12 more veterans courts opened in the counties of Allegheny and Montgomery. In 2013, veterans courts will open in the counties of Cambria and Beaver. The counties under consideration for veterans courts are Fayette and Bucks.
The veterans courts program was created by the Deputy District Attorney, Robert James, who is a veteran of the Air Force. James was a staff sergeant who served in the first Gulf War as a cruise missile security specialist. Veteran volunteers are mentors for the veterans who are sent to veterans courts in the state.
Seamus McCaffery, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, served in the Marine Corps and the United States Air Force Reserves.
“The earlier we intervene, the better for the veteran, the better for their family, the better for their community, and the better for the system,” McCaffery said in a press release.