Veterans’ court launchedPublished: 11/30/16 @ 12:05
The Mahoning County Common Pleas Veterans’ Court made its debut in a Tuesday celebration.
The event marked the initial certification of the felony-level specialty court by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Judge Shirley J. Christian is presiding over the new court, and her successor, Judge-elect Anthony D’Apolito, who takes office Jan. 1, said he will continue it.
The court, one of 21 veterans’ courts in Ohio, will serve military veterans charged with low-level, non-violent crimes.
Participating veterans will plead guilty to the charges they face; and those charges can be dismissed if they complete a closely-monitored, court-ordered treatment program.
A veteran will be assigned as a mentor to each participant.
Judge Robert Milich operates a similar misdemeanor veterans’ court in Youngstown Municipal Court.
“It’s a great thing that’s happening to help these individuals who truly need help,” Derick Young, a Marine veteran, who will coordinate the felony veterans’ court and its mentors, said of the new court.
“I hope to get these individuals the help that they need,” including mental health and substance abuse treatment, so they don’t commit more crimes, he added.
“Veteran-treatment courts are tapping into the unique aspects of military and veteran culture and using it for the benefit of the veteran,” said Brian Kennedy, executive director of Turning Point Counseling Services.
“Through these unique courts, those who served in our nation’s armed forces are allowed to participate in the treatment court process with their fellow veterans, re-instilling a sense of camaraderie that they felt while they served in uniform,” he added.
“They’re no longer isolated. They again have a structure in their life that may have been missing. They’re forced to address their mental health issues or addiction problems that many have ignored for too long,” Judge Christian said of veterans’ court participants.
“In doing all of this, they have the best that our government and our social service providers have to offer,” Judge Christian added.
A 13-member planning committee, including veterans’ service and mental health and substance abuse recovery officials, probation and community corrections officials and prosecuting and defense lawyers helped organize Judge Christian’s veterans’ court.
Five percent of defendants in criminal cases for whom the Community Corrections Association has done pre-sentence investigations within the past three years are veterans.
The veterans’ court will be a specialty docket somewhat similar to Judge John M. Durkin’s drug court and Judge Maureen A. Sweeney’s mental health court, both in common pleas court.