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Politics & Government

Sen. Teplitz Wants Veterans Courts in Every Pennsylvania County

Veterans courts go above normal courts, offering veterans charged with non-violent crimes options for treatment for drugs and alcohol or other issues that could have led them to being charged with a crime. Legislation introduced in Harrisburg would increase the number of veterans treatment courts.

“Right now about 16 counties have those courts, but 50 do not. We would like to require it,” said Sen. Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin).

Veterans court allows judges to use their discretion in sentencing; jail time is not the only option, but also treatment to address issues such as addiction or PTSD. Plus, the court provides support and guidance from fellow veterans who participate in the court program.

“The point is to have specialized personnel from the judge on down dealing with issues that underlie the veterans’ commission of a crime,” said Teplitz. “It’s an intervention model as opposed to an incarceration model of justice.”

Pennsylvania has the fifth largest population of veterans in the country, and often there are other issues that need to be addressed and wouldn’t be with just jail time.

“Instead of dealing with the theft, for instance, you’re dealing with, ‘what was it in that veteran’s background and experience that led to that theft?’” said Teplitz.

The thought is that veterans courts not only help veterans address their issues, but it also saves money within the justice system, according to Teplitz.

“Folks from York County, where there’s a successful veterans court, were able to document tens of millions of dollars in savings,” he said. “We should be able to duplicate that statewide.”

The bill (Senate Bill 517) is awaiting consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.