Court Specializes In Crimes By Veterans, Turning Lives Around


Courts and jails are overcrowded and law enforcement is looking for new ways to handle the problem.

Some judges are experimenting with specialty dockets which are designed to transform law breakers into law abiding citizens.

Troops come home to the cheers of loved ones, but when the cheering stops and it's back to daily life - some former service personnel have trouble with the transition.

They have problems with drinking or drugs.

In the past, some of those veterans wound up in jail. 

But now, if they're arrested for a minor crime, they're given a choice. Judge Scott VanDerKarr will see them in Veterans' Court.

"I think that the general community feels they owe it to our veterans to make sure that we help them re-establish their lives here in this country,"  the judge said.

Zachary Bickenheuser  was picked up for driving without a license.  He said that he began to drink heavily as a Navy Seabee.

When given the choice of 15 days in jail or two years of probation in veterans' court, then no record, he didn't hesitate.

"I had no clue about the program, but I knew it was better than going to jail," he said.

Social workers meet with each vet and draw up a treatment program. They helped Zach get in an AA program, and find a job.

"It made me feel that I wasn't alone, and that there's other people out there, and other veterans," Bickenheuser said.

Sometimes veterans can't pay for their rent, or utilities, or car repairs.  Then the court reaches out to veterans groups for help, like the Veterans Service Commission.

The men come to the court each week to report their progress. The judge said it transforms lives.

"I've seen individuals that were homeless, didn't have a job, not on their medication, and now have a job, have housing; their lives are stable," Judge VanDerKarr said.

This winter, Bickenheuser plans to start college to become an emergency medical technician, and once again help his country.

"When I do look in the mirror, sometimes I don't even recognize myself," he said.

Veterans' Court has been in operation since early this year.

The judge said specialty courts that provide help and steer many people away from a life of crime, are the future of criminal justice.

Other specialty courts handle cases related to prostitution, drugs, and mental illness.

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