County expands court program to help veterans in trouble

County expands court program to help veterans in trouble

READING, Pa. - A program aimed at keeping veterans out of jail is expanding.

Veterans Court specializes in dealing with former servicemen and women who have run-ins with the law.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, co-chair of the state's Veterans Court, said run-ins with the law include anything from substance abuse, domestic violence and  DUI, as well as disruptive conduct due to post traumatic stress disorder.

"We send these young men and women off and we train them to be violent," said McCaffery during a visit to Reading on Tuesday.

"It became apparent that these individuals who sacrificed for our nation and our country came home with some problems that were causing them to get involved in the criminal justice system," said John Adams, Berks County district attorney.

"When a veteran is charged with a crime, his attorney is going to apply for Veterans Court. And if the District Attorney approves him of the program, he'll be part of the Berks County Veteran Court," said President Judge Jeffrey Schmehl.

Veterans court also protects the rights of the victims by allowing them to tell a court to deny a suspect's petition to have the case tried in veterans court, Schmehl said.

"Victims are very important," said Schmehl.

Currently, Schmehl said more than 100 Berks County veterans are involved with the program.

Pennsylvania has one of the largest number of veterans in the nation, with 27,000 living in Berks County, McCafferty said.

"We could have taken the easy way out and incarcerated them and cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we're not going to do that. We're going to try and help these people," said Adams.

"It's a win-win situation. If they do what they're supposed to do, they can either stay out of jail or lessen their jail term. And if they don't do what they're supposed to do, then they go to jail," said Schmehl.

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