By District Attorney Ryan Sayers
2023 Vol. 44
Over the last few weeks, I have been asked about the Veterans Court that was announced for Clearfield County.
This will be a regional program with eight (8) counties participating (Blair, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin, and Perry) and will be managed by the Administrative Offices of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC).
The purpose of this Regional Veterans Court is to help those that helped protect us and, as stated in the court manual, is, “to divert eligible veteran-defendants with substance dependency and/or mental illness that are charged with a criminal offense to a specialized criminal court docket.”
The manual goes on to state that, “resulting from our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, an estimated 550,000 veterans under the age of 25 suffer from a substance abuse or mental health disorder and these diagnoses have increased nearly 40 percent since 2004.
Left untreated, they can directly lead to homelessness and involvement in the criminal justice system.”
This specialized court will be specifically for veterans that have found themselves in the criminal justice system, and will be presided over by judges from Clinton County and Blair County on a rotating basis starting in early 2024.
Therefore, the veteran-defendant will have his/her case handled in the normal manner and be sentenced based on the sentencing guidelines, but the sentencing judge will order that any period of probation/parole be under the supervision of this regional veterans court program.
What makes this program different from regular probation/parole is the team that will be supporting these veterans while being monitored by a judge.
The Veterans Court judge will oversee the veteran’s progress through a treatment plan that will include court staff, veteran health care professionals, veteran peer mentors, veteran mental health professionals, county veteran’s affairs office and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
This way the unique issues that a veteran faces can be handled by those with specialized training and work with veterans on a regular basis.
The ultimate goal of this program is to help these veteran’s with their mental health and/or substance abuse issues so that they do not end up back in the criminal justice system.
Other counties and states have had success with this program and I look forward to seeing the results here in Clearfield County starting in 2024.
If you have any questions that you would like answered in this weekly article, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Sayers is the elected District Attorney of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
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