Imagine a world where returning military veterans caught up in the justice system are elevated by a collaborative approach, not ground down by the adversarial process.
That nonconfrontational world exists now, according to Judge Stephen Manley of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, who spoke to the Rotary Club of Los Altos via Zoom Feb. 18. Veterans Treatment Courts (VTC) have been established for the purpose of achieving better outcomes incorporating treatment, not just exacting punishment.
In an effort to not merely afford respect, but to avoid recidivism, judges have undertaken the responsibility to develop a special court program whose goal is to successfully return individuals who served their country to their community, Manley said.
The courts have embraced a treatment and supervision model that offers assessment and services to vets. Incorporating multiple community providers and programs, including VA hospital programs, a “military diversion” program starts at the beginning of any misdemeanor charge for those who served in the military, bringing the promise of services into the courtroom.
Those charged are introduced to a partnership not only of health providers and specialized legal probation officers and parole agents, but even peer mentors who have a camaraderie with those who served. Even those charged with serious felonies have the opportunity to be referred to the program, Manley said.
There are regular court appearances as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, demonstrating that there is both accountability and the potential for sanctions, Manly noted. However, what is stressed are the incentives to help returning veterans who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other military service-related mental health issues. As the emphasis is on restoring hope, having veterans who have struggled be placed in a special court, and treated with compassion, has enhanced the ability of those individuals to rebuild their family life, according to Manley.
Manley said the impact of the program is significant: 81% of the individuals involved successfully complete their treatment program.
At the close of his presentation, Manley made a point of thanking the late Los Altos resident Duncan MacVicar for spearheading the program not only in Santa Clara County, but throughout the state of California.
Harry I. Price is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.