Cuyahoga County to Add Veterans Court
During the week that the nation paused to honor its military veterans, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judges voted to create a Veterans Court.
The Veterans Court will begin hearing cases in January of 2015 with the mission to successfully rehabilitate veterans by diverting them from the traditional criminal justice system and providing them with the tools they need to lead a productive, law-abiding lifestyle.
Cuyahoga County has the largest veteran population in the state with 9.7 percent. Veterans often are confronted with serious readjustment issues when they return home. The most serious of those issues include unemployment, post-traumatic stress syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, homelessness, drugs, and crime.
Service members have many shared experiences that are not common among their non-military peers. As a result, traditional community services may not be adequately suited to meet their needs. However, a carefully tailored program that takes advantage of a shared military experience does make a difference, based on the initial data from other veterans courts. An essential component is the “mentor program” where veteran mentors act as peer support to veteran participants.
Another goal of the Veterans Court is to forge partnerships among the Veterans Administration, public agencies, and community-based organizations, to generate local support.
Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas judges will have the discretion to transfer a veteran’s case to the Veterans Court, where the defendant will take part in the program for a minimum of 12 months. All felony-level cases that are eligible for probation (Community Control Sanctions/CCS) may be transferred to the Veterans Court, but priority will be given to high-risk, high-need veteran defendants.
There are 15 veterans courts in the certification process through the Ohio Supreme Court specialized docket program. There are more than 170 specialized dockets in Ohio courts that bring together court and treatment personnel to work collaboratively to assist defendants with treatment instead of prison for issues such as drugs, alcohol, and mental health. The success of specialized dockets is measured by reduced recidivism, improved treatment, and cost savings.