Centre County Magisterial District Courts are implementing a pre-trial diversionary or pre-adjudicative disposition program for military veterans that have been charged with summary non-traffic violations such as Public Drunkenness,Disorderly Conduct, Criminal Mischief, and Harassment. The Magisterial Veterans Diversion Court program became official as Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler signed an order earlier this week.
By participating in the program, the court defers disposition or judgment on a non-traffic case for six months while the veteran seeks treatment with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Basically, the case is put on hold while the veteran works to complete the requirements of the program. Upon completion of such programs, the charges are dismissed and can then be expunged from the criminal records. A failure to successfully complete such programs results in the participant's removal and prosecution of the charges would thereafter resume. The program is very similar to first time offenders programs such as ARD and PWOV that are used in Centre County misdemeanor cases such as DUI, Fake ID, Furnishing Alcohol to Minors, and marijuana possession.
Centre County Needs Veteran's Court for "Criminal Cases"
The creation of the diversionary program for veteran's at the district court level is a good first step, but I believe that Centre County should look into the creation of a Veteran's Court at the Court of Common Pleas level for more severe criminal charges such as marijuana possession, DUI, assault, drug possession and delivery, and terroristic threats. Some veterans have trouble transitioning from military life to civilian life, and the inability to transition sometimes causes veterans to have brushes with the law. Some areas across the country are creating Veteran's Court Program, similar to other specialized courts such as DUI Court and Drug Court, that use treatment programs that are tailored to the needs of the individual to "right the ship."
Such programs often give the participant the inducement to participate by reducing penalties, but participation requires much more intensive treatment and monitoring by both the probation department and even the supervising judge. For example, the Centre County DUI Court program meets with the supervising judge every other week for each participant to give the judge a status update. Overall, specialty courts have proven to be beneficial to society in that recidivism of criminal activity is reduced, and the programs are often effective in helping the participants return to a law-abiding lifestyle.
Hopefully Centre County can work on creating both a Veteran's Court and a Drug Court that is modeled after the DUI Court program. While some people believe that putting repeat offenders in prison for long periods of time is the solution, the statistics show that specialty courts and not incarceration is more effective in reducing recidivism. Northumberland County has a Veteran's Court program that is paid for by grants and donations, so the program does not cost the county anything.
I would like to thank those that have served in the military to protect our country and thereby allow me to enjoy the rights and freedoms that are espoused in the U.S. Constitution.