Legal officials advocate for better treatment of veterans in penal system
Would incarceration be the preferred way to reform veterans with psychological issues faced after returning from the line of duty?
Many judges and lawyers across the state say no, and a number of prominent legal officials held a press conference Monday afternoon in East Lansing's 54B District Court to introduce a manual for helping to resolve underlying issues of veterans in non-violent criminal cases.
"The penal system is not always the best place to deal with issues that face us," Michigan Supreme Court Justice David Viviano said.
This was the underlying goal of the panel of speakers, who spoke on the need for Veterans Treatment Courts, of which 54B was one of the first in the state, to hopefully help veterans outside a cycle of relapse and incarceration.
These resources, to be used at an individual judge's discretion, apply to veterans who are honorably or administratively discharged and are not violent in nature. The officials unveiled a resource compiled with procedures for judges heading Veterans Treatment Courts, entitled "Veterans Treatment Courts in Michigan: A Manual for Judges" compiled by Western Michigan University's Cooley Law School.
For example, instead of perpetually incarcerating veterans facing psychological issues stemming directly from their time in the military, judges would instead put them on a type of probation, including being assigned a mentor from the branch of the armed forces they served in.
Currently, Michigan leads the country with 22 counties possessing Veterans Treatment Courts, however counties without one can refer cases to a nearby county that does.
"Michigan's veterans and their families have sacrificed much in defense of our freedoms," Kristina Leonardi of Michigan of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency said.
Last to speak was a veteran of the Vietnam War who faced numerous run-ins with the law after returning home who was helped just recently by programs in 54B's Veterans Treatment Court.
"I was just totally pathetic," Earl “Gunny” Christensen said.
He said he felt the court actually wanted to help him rather than punish him.
"Today I'm sane, I'm sober," Christensen said. "I live a good, honest life because of what this court did for me."