Maybe you think we sound like a broken record, but when we hear about amazing ways that Veterans Courts are helping change lives locally and in other states, we want that for all of the veterans in our community, regardless of where they live or where their charges were filed. From Phoenix to North Carolina to Ohio, cities across our nation are recognizing the need to help these men and women address underlying problems that landed them in the criminal justice system and provide a supporting network to help them overcome whatever adversity they may be facing. In a justice system strapped for cash and other resources, sometimes a bit of creativity and dedication is what makes all the difference.
Collin County Judge John Roach has decided to take the philosophy of the Veterans Court on the road to reach veterans in smaller, rural communities. Every week, the Judge makes the drive to one of the different counties to meet vets who he believes have reached “rock bottom” culminating in a criminal charge. In his experience, the judge feels that what these vets need most is help and that often times, vets’ struggles go unnoticed because they do not readily talk about the issues they may be facing. Judge Roach recognizes the unique struggles vets must confront when returning to civilian life and wants to help them ensure their civilian record mirrors the honorable way each served our country. Judge Roach believes that by asking these vets to address not only the crimes committed but admit their own struggles with the support of their communities, they can again prosper. Judge Roach elaborates that the process the vets must go through—the probation—is often tougher than what they would experience going through the regular court system, a bit of tough love. Upon successful completion of the program, vets walk away from the process without a blemish on their criminal record, but hopefully they acquire a new system of support that will stay with each of them.
This judge logs over 100 miles a week in order to bring his Veterans Court to the men and women who otherwise may be left behind. When we talk about getting creative, this is exactly the sort of idea that we are referring to. Phoenix City Court and the City of Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office transform one courtroom each week into an in-house Veterans Court, operating within the bounds of the court’s normal functions. Volunteers assist in linking vets with services, and the judge assists in giving personalized attention to each vet’s case and circumstances. Prosecutors work alongside defense attorneys and vets to get each one the help needed while holding them accountable for their actions.
At the end of the day, we don’t really care if you’re sick of our song. This broken record is going to keep on skipping and asking our Maricopa County cities to figure out how to better help these men and women.