Tuesday, June 4, 2013

VETS 1 | Justice Outreach

Manhattan's Midtown Community Court, 314 West 54th Street
The Midtown Community Court on West 54th Street has since 1993 targeted quality-of-life misdemeanor offenses, such as prostitution, illegal vending, graffiti, shoplifting, fare-beating and vandalism. The court was designed to address the fact that in most courts judges are forced to choose between a few days of jail time and no sentence at all. 

The Midtown Community Court, instead, sentences misdemeanor offenders to pay back the neighborhood through community service, while at the same time offering help with problems that may underlie criminal behavior. Midtown's sanctions and services include  community restitution projects, short-term psychoeducational groups, and long-term services such as drug treatment, mental health treatment, and trauma-focused psychotherapy.

Starting in April 2013, the Court has been working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Veterans Justice Outreach program) to screen and pair defendants who served in the military with support programs. The first two offenders in the program attended a group-counseling session mandated by the court as part of their sentences for having committed misdemeanor offenses. Defendants that served in the military and plead guilty to their charges can avoid jail terms by attending counseling sessions, paying a fine or performing community service, or some combination of these or other programs. 

Elise White, deputy director for the Midtown Community Court says:
There's a high level of overlap between folks who have come back from some kind of combat and post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, other kinds of disorders, other kinds of cognitive impairment. The idea is that the veterans court has a really good working knowledge of these issues and can help connect veterans to the kinds of services that will assist them in reintegrating into civilian life.
The program has already been implemented in courts in Brooklyn and Houston, Texas, where a veterans court became the focus of a "60 Minutes" segment in October 2012. Officials at the Midtown Community Court, including Judge Felicia Mennin, have taken part in multiple training sessions that cover everything from military jargon to the effects of traumatic brain injury and military sexual assault. For example, screeners learned not to ask whether a defendant was a veteran, but instead inquire whether he or she had served in the military:
People in the Vietnam era would generally label themselves as veterans, whereas the veterans who return now are not necessarily thinking of themselves as veterans. Many veterans aren't aware of the array of services available to them. 
Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130405/midtown/veterans-initiative-unveiled-at-midtown-community-court#ixzz2RDoc2AGU. Court phone number: 646-264-1300.

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