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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.
Nation’s first online training for Veterans Courts mentors launched by Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
HARRISBURG — The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania today joined state and national veterans’ groups in seeking volunteers to assist former servicemen and servicewomen who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus P. McCaffery joined Michael Moreland of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and representatives of Robert Morris University at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in outlining plans to recruit mentors in support of the state Judiciary’s expanding number of Veterans Courts. Judges in those courts assign mentors to provide support and guidance to veterans caught up in the court system who are struggling with drug/alcohol, mental health and other difficulties. Pennsylvania currently has eight Veterans Courts in operation. Three additional counties have announced plans to form Veterans Courts, and at least four more courts are expected to open in 2012.
As part of the recruitment drive, it was announced today that an online training program — believed to be the first of its kind in the nation — has been launched to enhance access and increase the number of people wanting to become trained as mentors. The program was developed by AOPC staff and is being hosted at no cost to the state court system by Robert Morris University, which also has agreed to manage the site.
“Our nation has a commitment to provide whatever help we can to the brave men and women who have served our country,” Chief Justice Castille said. “This new online training program will make it easy and convenient for veterans to be part of a program to come to the aid of their fellow veterans who encounter difficulties when they return home from service. I am enormously grateful for the work of Robert Morris University in helping us develop something for Pennsylvanians that ultimately could serve as a role model for veterans’ courts nationwide.