Glendale’s City Council has supported the implementation and establishment of a Veterans Court in the city.
During the April 13 city council workshop, Presiding Judge Nicholas DiPiazza unveiled details about it via a PowerPoint presentation to the governing body.
With the overwhelming support of the city council, the court team can aim to open the Veterans Court on Oct. 1.
The Veterans Court is an initiative that the Mayor Jerry Weiers has supported for several years.
“This is something I think everybody knows I’ve been wanting to have for quite some time with the work that I do with veterans,” Weiers said.
The Veterans Court’s mission is to enhance public safety and decrease the number of recidivisms among veterans, while appropriately judging cases involving veterans and ensuring justice for victims and the accused. Veterans courts throughout the country vary in approach.
Veterans Court is an important tool and valuable resource to Glendale and the West Valley, said Jay Crandall, city spokesperson.
“A significant number of veterans who returned from Vietnam and, more recently, from Iraq and Afghanistan experienced difficulty adjusting to civilian life, often due to traumatic brain injuries, other injuries and substance abuse problems,” Crandall said. “Veterans Court aims to provide a vehicle for the VA to engage these veterans and to offer treatment and other resources and services as an alternative to jail time.”
According to Crandall, nearly 95% of veterans in the criminal justice system have substance abuse issues directly related to their criminal charges. Many of these veterans are also homeless. The recidivism rate in regular courts is between 70% to 80%.
In comparison with regular courts, the recidivism rates in veterans courts nationally average 25%, said Glendale City Court documents.
The Lake Havasu City Veterans Court reported 5.6% recidivism after its first five years, after serving 296 veterans, according to city court documents.
Deputy Court Administrator Partick Scott said achieving drug and alcohol sobriety is critical to reducing the rate of recidivism and homelessness by veterans. Veterans courts require commitment and accountability by defendants and, in return, connect veterans with assessment, comprehensive treatment plans and services tailored to their individual needs provided by the Veterans Administration.
“We already have a Mental Health Court to service part of our population that is fragile,” said Councilmember Joyce Clark, who represents the Yucca District. “This is recognition of another part of our population that is also fragile and needs extra help.”
Veterans Court will also provide peer support, monitoring, support by the Veterans Administration and other local community-based support groups.
“There’s another part of this that I don’t know anybody else is even thinking about; a lot of our veterans are getting into trouble and losing their jobs and their families, and next thing you know they’re homeless,” Weiers said. “If we can solve those problems before they become major problems, we’re going to start the process of starting to solve the homeless problem.”
The new Veterans Court will be a collective effort led by Glendale’s City Court, defense attorneys, prosecutors, the Veterans Administration and community support service providers.
The first U.S. Veterans Court was established in Buffalo, New York, in 2008. It was followed by the first Arizona Veterans Court in Lake Havasu City in 2013.
Since then, an administrative order was issued by Maricopa County Superior Court authorizing a collective East Valley Veterans Court, which covers Chandler, Carefree-Cave Creek, Fountain Hills, Gilbert, Paradise Valley, Scottsdale and Tempe. Flagstaff, Bullhead City, Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson also have municipal veterans courts.
According to the Glendale City Court, a separate effort is underway in the Maricopa County Justice Courts that will accept cases from the 26 justice courts involving defendants who are veterans.
“I think it’s about time we start a process for veterans through the judicial system,” said Councilmember Jamie Aldama, who represents the Ocotillo District.
“Just because we start today, it doesn’t mean we immediately start seeing change. It is a process. A lot of times we just think we’re going to start tomorrow and see the results. It’s going to take time, but if we don’t start today, we’ll never start.”