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House of Representatives
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: December 2, 2019 03:52 PM
From: Representative Ryan A. Bizzarro
To: All House members
Subject: Codifying Veterans Treatment Courts
Pennsylvania is the proud home to over 800,000 veterans. Unfortunately, it is common for veterans to face hardships as a result of their service, such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. These struggles can affect a person’s mind and actions, increasing the chance they will participate in high-risk behavior that puts them in the criminal justice system.

Veterans treatment courts were established in Pennsylvania in 2009 as problem-solving courts for veterans who have been charged with a misdemeanor or nonviolent felony. Rather than simply being handed a punishment, participants come before judges regularly and receive support and guidance from fellow veteran mentors who can relate to the unique challenges veterans face. Participating veterans are supervised by special probation officers and receive treatment and support from the Veterans Administration throughout their participation. Veterans courts consider the circumstances leading up to the case, including the impacts of military service.

Even though veterans live in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, only 25 of these counties have a Veterans Court. I am proposing legislation to codify Veterans Courts into law, allow Veterans Courts to permit participation by veterans from adjacent counties, and allow county common pleas courts that have other problem-solving courts to establish programs similar to Veterans Courts.

More than half of all veterans currently in the criminal justice system suffer from mental health or substance abuse disorders. Veterans Courts have proven to effectively reduce recidivism. It is time we expand this effective, specialized support and treatment to veterans who cannot currently benefit from it. Please join me in helping our veterans get out of the criminal justice system and back to their communities.

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Introduced as HB2143