States, Localities Create Special Veterans’ Courts


Twenty years after Miami opened the nation's first drug court, Illinois and Nevada are applying the same idea to a different population: war veterans who have had run-ins with the law, reports The two states this year became the first to authorize the statewide creation of “veterans' courts,” which, like drug or mental-health courts, use a softer criminal justice approach to rehabilitate – not incarcerate – a select category of offenders charged with nonviolent crimes. Other states considered similar legislative proposals this year, and individual veterans' courts exist in Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., Anchorage, Alaska, Orange County, Ca., and Tulsa.

Veterans' courts are designed for current and former military service members who have broken the law – potentially, the courts' proponents say, because they face combat-related stress, financial instability, or other difficulties adjusting to life after wartime deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. A study the RAND Corporation last year found that about one-fifth of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – or about 300,000 of the more than 1.6 million U.S. troops to see action in the two wars – reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or “major depression.” Critics say veterans' courts create a separate system of justice without any evidence that such a system is necessary. Singling out veterans in the criminal justice system, critics say, is discriminatory because it suggests that veterans are more likely than other citizens to commit crimes.

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