SF celebrates first year of vet court
By Lyanne Melendez
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
It's been a year since San Francisco introduced a special court to deal
with veterans who commit minor offenses. The idea is to offer treatment
rather than jail. On Wednesday, the veteran justice court began its
The folks in San Francisco heard about vet court in San
Jose, they went to check it out, they liked what they saw and then they
brought it to San Francisco. Now, it's here to stay.
It's Wednesday afternoon and veteran after veteran stands before
Judge Braden Woods. All of them were caught committing a non-violent
"Using drugs, alcohol to the excess where my life just got unmanageable, committing crimes," said veteran Warner Graves.
Others may be here for other offenses such as shoplifting or car break-ins. But this is not like your traditional courtroom.
"The biggest difference is that we're trying to get folks into
treatment. The vets, they're earned these privileges in terms of
free-medical, mental health through their service to this country. So
we're trying to get them connected with the V.A. to get the services
they need," said Judge Braden Woods from Veterans Justice Court.
So instead of going to jail, they come to vet court, enroll in the
program to get help with problems like drug addiction, alcoholism or
mental illnesses. They are closely monitored. Some have to check in
with case managers and the court as often as three times a week.
Vet court is part of San Francisco's Community Justice Center. It too
follows the same model -- helping people in the tenderloin and nearby
neighborhoods get the services they need.
"So it's a very
supportive court. Instead of having a judge scold you, they clap for
your success," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Stephen Bennett was one of the first to enroll in the vet program. Even
though he's now a graduate, he still has to report to court. He has
managed to turn his life around. Bennett said, "Once I accepted it, I
knew I had to move on and learn how to be... or go back to being a
constructive citizen in society."
Both programs are gaining
national attention for helping people break the cycle of incarceration
and transforming their lives.
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