Missouri county starts court for vets in KC area
Sunday, July 8, 2012
KANSAS CITY (AP) — A Missouri county has launched a new court that will offer military veterans in the Kansas City area alternatives to jail for some non-violent offenses.
The court is a combined effort of the Jackson County Circuit Court, the prosecutor’s office and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Jackson County court for veterans will focus on intervention and treatment instead of putting veterans on the usual track for prosecution, officials said.
In some cases, charges against the veterans will be dismissed if they successfully complete the program. Others will be offered services such as drug counseling or job training as part of their probation after being found guilty.
“The veterans court is designed to get veterans the treatment they need without the harsh edges of the criminal justice system,” Jackson County Commissioner David Fry said.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said at a ceremony Monday marking its opening that the court won’t hear some cases, including crimes involving sex offenses, drive-by shootings or murders. She said the court will be able to handle up to 60 cases at a time.
“It’s not a program for all veterans,” she said. “We have to balance our duty to veterans with our duty to victims.”
A recent case convinced Baker of the need for such a program. Police shot and killed Iraq war veteran Robert Long, 26, in January after he brandished a firearm. Long had been preparing to deploy to Afghanistan again.
His family told Baker that he was a “different man when he came home” from an earlier deployment and that he’d been struggling with various problems.
“That case made me start thinking that we can do something better,” she said.