Michigan seeks to establish veterans' courts

Sep 12, 2012

A set of bills passed by the state Senate today, the anniversary of 9/11, lays the groundwork for establishing a system of veterans' courts.

The Michigan Public Radio Network's Jake Neher reports:

Judges would be able to recommend non-violent offenders to rehabilitation programs instead of jail. Senator Rick Jones says vets are forced to deal with extraordinary challenges, both overseas and once they’re home.

“With the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, some of them have suffered head injuries. Certainly, we must make sure if they get into trouble with alcohol or drugs that we have a deferral program.”

There are a few veterans courts in Michigan already, but the measures would make sure they all operate under the same rules. The bills unanimously passed the state House in May. They now go to the governor’s desk.

Though the establishment of treatment courts specifically designed for veterans is a recent phenomenon (the first court was founded in 2008, says Justice for Vets) there are early success stories.

Writing for the Denver Post, Carol Hopkins tells the story of Oakland County resident and U.S. Marine Anthony Stott:

Former U.S. Marine Anthony Stott vividly recalls the night he was pulled over by police in Farmington.

“It was Cinco de Mayo in 2011,” he said. “I was arrested for driving and drinking and possession of marijuana.”

Instead of becoming another statistic in Oakland County’s court system, Stott, now 27, was steered toward Judge Brian MacKenzie’s Veterans Court, a court focused on keeping veterans out of jail for nonviolent offenses through a tightly supervised counseling and mentor program.

MacKenzie, learned about Veterans Court in 2009 from a fellow judge, Robert Russell, who had started his own in Buffalo, N.Y.

“Most often they come back suffering from post-traumatic stress, and may be handling that by turning to drugs or alcohol. We want them to deal with that trauma so they stop turning to substances that alter behavior.”

Stott is over halfway through his 18 month probation.

“They want to see you do good there. It changed my life and I’m thankful,” Stott said.

-Jordan Wyant, Michigan Radio Newsroom