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From the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts
HARRISBURG — Military veterans facing incarceration for minor criminal charges would have the option of supervised treatment under a pilot program of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
The Magisterial District Judge Diversion program, aimed at veteran offenders, was initiated in Centre County in November and will be piloted in Monroe and Westmoreland counties starting Jan. 1.
Believed to be the only one of its kind in the country, the diversionary program is being tested in the three diverse counties with the goal of developing blueprints for possible expansion statewide. Guidelines were developed by a committee established by the AOPC.
“This program has been under development for over three years and is another step in the work we have been doing here in the courts of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the Veterans Administration, to assist returning veterans with their struggles to readjust,” said Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery. “What we hope to do here is divert these veterans into treatment before their problems escalate to behaviors that would result in a case getting to the Court of Common Pleas.
“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.”
The move follows implementation of a similar statewide Veterans Court program in the Common Pleas Courts that also offers supervised treatment as an alternative to incarceration. By introducing earlier intervention at the magisterial district judge level, program planners hope to curb behavior from worsening among veterans with drug and alcohol abuse, anger management and post-traumatic stress disorder issues. In a collaborative arrangement with the state court system, the Veterans Administration provides treatment services.
A veteran charged with summary offenses — such as disorderly conduct, public drunkenness or harassment — could opt for supervised treatment, with the county district attorney’s office approval. The charges would be dismissed at the end of a successful six-month treatment period. If a defendant doesn’t comply with the terms of the program, the charges would be restored.
Pennsylvania has more than one million veterans statewide — including Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille and Justice McCaffery. Justice McCaffery is the Supreme Court’s liaison to the state’s problem-solving courts program, and has been a leading force in establishing Veterans Courts throughout the Commonwealth.