San Francisco has launched a new court for veterans only that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment for low-level crimes.
“San Francisco’s community court, like others in the country, uses judges, not juries, to send defendants to drug treatment, shelter and social services, instead of handing down fines and time in overcrowded jails,” The Associated Press reported Dec. 25.
Superior Court Judge Cynthia Ming-mei Lee helped create the veterans court.
She had realized that veterans were different from other defendants. “They stood up straight, said, ‘Yes ma’am, no ma’am,’ and there was no street talk. This was a different animal,” she said.
Since the Community Justice Center was started about a year ago, 60 veterans have gone through the court program, the Associated Press reported.
The center has received a $350,000 federal grant that the program will use to expand to handle crimes such as drugs and domestic violence that often affect people who served on active military duty.
The AP reported on a veteran, Russell Phay. “Phay came out of the Army as a trained infantry combat soldier, but his tour ended just as his unit was headed out. He then had trouble readjusting to civilian life. He threatened his wife when she took their son to Colorado and ended up in prison.”
After serving his time, Phay said he got treatment. “I feel like people here understand the brotherhood,” he said.
The new program has mentors who are veterans themselves.
Lee said, “I like to say if you want to see the best of the legal system, spend Wednesday afternoon in veterans court.”
If an incarcerated veteran wants to learn more about VHV or if they or their family may qualify for additional benefits, please contact:
Mary Donovan, Executive Director of VHV
PO BOX 432
San Quentin, CA 94964
The VHV website is veteranshealingveterans.org