Poughkeepsie, NY … Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro announced the County is establishing, supporting and funding a veterans treatment court, with the support of County Court Judge Jessica Segal, City of Beacon Judge Gregory Johnson, the County Office of Probation and Community Corrections, and Mental Health America (MHA) Vet2Vet Program to adjudicate cases of offenses involving veterans, specifically those living with trauma, addiction or mental illness related to their service. The new veterans court is another example of the successful collaboration of agencies and experts within the criminal justice system who come together as the County’s Criminal Justice Council to continuously improve system outcomes in Dutchess County. The New York State Office of Court Administration recently approved the County’s proposal for the new courts, which will begin next week with a “soft launch” and will be fully operational by the fall.
County Executive Molinaro said, “Our veterans are our American heroes, and sadly many of them return from duty with mental scars that make their reintegration into their community difficult, often resulting in their entry into the criminal justice system. Dutchess County is proud to establish this veterans court to help divert these heroes away from incarceration and into the proper treatment programs that will support their recovery, diminish their chances of reoffending, and restore their connections to their community. We thank Judge Segal and Judge Johnson for their cooperation in helping us found this ground-breaking endeavor, which will have such a positive impact on so many local veterans and their families.”
The veterans treatment court has two tracks – felony and misdemeanor. Felonies will be addressed in County Court in Poughkeepsie under the jurisdiction of Hon. Segal. Judge Segal has been instrumental in working with County Probation and Community Corrections in making the veterans treatment court – the first of its kind in Dutchess County – possible. Misdemeanors will be handled in Beacon under the jurisdiction of Hon. Johnson, as an offshoot of the existing drug court. The new courts will serve as an alternative to incarceration, offering veterans treatment, structure and accountability, while also connecting them to the benefits their service has earned them. Veterans who repeatedly face such charges associated with addiction, homelessness and the like, will be eligible to participate in the new court.
Hon. Segal said, “The veterans court model is a team effort, comprised of local stakeholders interested in making a real impact in our veterans’ lives. More than a guilty verdict, we are focused on rehabilitating these men and women who have defended our nation, giving them a second chance to turn their lives around and constructively contribute to their community. I look forward to the successful implementation of these new courts in Dutchess County and seeing the great benefit it will bring to our veterans.”
First established in Buffalo in 2008 and replicated throughout the United States, the veterans treatment court model offers veterans facing misdemeanor drug cases with a veteran mentor, who engages with the veteran throughout the process, as well as veteran-specific treatment to address the underlying issues that caused them to offend. To ensure its effectiveness, the court requires a team of officials to work with the veteran and each other, including a representative from:
The Dutchess County veterans treatment courts will be facilitated by MHA’s Vet2Vet program, which helps connect service members with fellow veterans to help them find the services and resources they need to heal, including support groups, social activities, assistance in finding housing or employment, advocacy for benefits, and others. Vet2Vet and the other partner agencies will keep working with veterans after treatment to keep them engaged and on track for continued, sustained recovery.
Vet2Vet program director Anthony Kavouras said, “Our Vet2Vet program works to give veterans the opportunity to help fellow service members on their transition back home. The veterans treatment court will be another tool we can use to help veterans who are struggling with issues related to addiction, mental health, or homelessness and are faced with legal ramifications of their actions. I am grateful to the County and the Justices for their support of this initiative and their commitment to supporting our local heroes.”
The model also requires the veteran to make regular court appearances, have mandatory attendance at treatment sessions, and undergo random and frequent testing for drug and alcohol use. Veterans facing violent felony charges are not eligible for participation in the veterans treatment court.
Dutchess County Office of Probation and Community Corrections Director and Chair of the Criminal Justice Council, Mary Ellen Still said, “Dutchess County remains committed to improving the criminal justice system. This collaboration will create another resource to make the system even more efficient and effective at helping those veterans who find themselves involved in it to receive the services and interventions they need to return to being successful members of society.”
Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady said, “Our veterans have given so much to serve our country. Unfortunately, too many may find the transition home difficult as they process what they’ve experienced and learn how to ‘turn off’ the soldier to be a contributing member of their community. I am proud to support the veterans treatment court initiative and help these individuals get back on track to success.”
Dutchess County Public Defender Tom Angell said, “The veterans treatment court will be a valuable resource to help our veteran clients, offering additional, veteran-specific treatments and alternatives to incarceration to increase the likelihood of achieving successful rehabilitation.”
Adam Roche, Director of the Dutchess County Division of Veterans’ Services, said, “Our veterans have served our country and we are here to serve them, particularly in times of need. The veterans treatment court will assist many local veterans in getting their lives in order following their service. I thank County Executive Molinaro, Judge Segal, Judge Johnson and the County’s partners for recognizing the unique issues and needs of veterans. This court will have an immeasurable influence on our local heroes who have contributed so much to us all.”