Gov. Pat McCrory has performed a fine service by pushing for the establishment and expansion of treatment courts for veterans in North Carolina.
Last year, a $66,696 grant from the Governor’s Crime Commission established a pilot veterans court in Harnett County. The effort was assisted by the local court, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, community veterans’ organizations and other community partners. On Wednesday, McCrory attended the graduation of the court’s first class and pledged to expand the program across the state.
The veterans court seeks to help veterans who get into legal trouble because of addictions or psychological and emotional wounds related to their military service. Instead of jail, they are offered counseling, job training and mentors.
“We want to give our veterans a second chance and help them when they come back home – even if they get in trouble, because they’re dealing with things we can’t imagine,” McCrory said at the graduation.
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Veterans who were diverted to the program rather than into the criminal justice system are deeply grateful for the second chance.
“We all thank God for this opportunity,” said Prentiss Mars, an Air Force veteran who was offered the program after a drunk driving charge. “If it had not been for this, I’d probably be in a jail cell, angry at the world, wondering what I did to deserve that.”
Veterans courts are not unique to North Carolina – more than 200 operate around he county – but the alternative approach is especially important in this state where a concentration of military bases has created a veteran population of 800,000, one of the largest in the nation.
The concept behind the veterans court should not be limited to veterans. Across the state, courts and jails are full of people who are more mentally troubled and addicted than criminal.
The criminal justice system should be about more than crime and punishments. It should be about understanding and helping people avoid becoming repeat offenders. It is an approach that calls to mind the line from the Christian hymn, “He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.”
McCrory has supported special drug treatment courts, but the Republican-led legislature has not gone along and has instead cut funding for drug courts. The governor should use the veterans court as evidence that care can accomplish more than punishment in many criminal cases. Not only is it humane, it is effective and reduces the cost of the system.