With the state’s largest population of veterans, Prince George’s County is being eyed as the future site for Maryland’s first veterans’ court, state officials said.
“I was in combat, and it’s very difficult coming back and going through the regular daily routine,” said state Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Dist. 23) of Bowie, who served during Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s and is chairman of the special veterans task force that recommended the court. “A lot of these young people have post-traumatic stress disorder, which is basically combat stress.”
Veterans suffering from PTSD and other combat-related mental illnesses are more likely to commit crimes, Peters said, but instead of time behind bars, they need rehabilitation and mentoring services to get their lives back on track.
With the support of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D), also a veteran, Peters said officials hope to open the court by 2015 and want to start the program in Prince George’s.
“Our veterans deserve our full support as they work to transition back into civilian life,” Brown said in a Nov. 8 statement.
Maryland is home to 443,076 veterans, with 62,744 living in Prince George’s — the most in the state, according to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs data.
The task force released its final report recommending the court on Nov. 7. The next step is getting approval from the Office of Problem-Solving Courts in Annapolis, which oversees the county’s drug court, a similar system to veterans’ court.
“The way these problem-solving courts work is they work with the individual to make sure their needs are met. Veterans have given unselfishly to this country, and what a veterans’ court will do is make sure there is a mentor and counselor that works with and understands the individual and matches them with resources they need to help them through the crises that they are in,” said Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams, Prince George’s Circuit Court administrative judge.
Adams, who has been pushing for a veterans’ court since she was appointed in 2010, said the circuit court is working on the application but doesn’t know when it will be submitted.
“If they agree Prince George’s can have a veterans’ court, I will make it happen,” Adams said, adding that space for the court would be made in the county courthouse in Upper Marlboro.
The task force projected a $250,000 start-up cost for 2015. After that year, the court would cost $365,445 annually to operate, the budget analysis states.
Funding pends approval of the application and would be mostly federal, with the U.S. veterans department covering all rehabilitation and treatment programs, Peters said. Remaining costs would be covered by the state and county.
The number of veterans who commit crimes in the state is unknown since the courts don’t collect this information, Peters said, adding that it is something he hopes to change.
Looking at the success of the nation’s first veterans court, the Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court established in New York in 2008, which has since served as a model for the now 168 veterans’ courts around the country, Peters said officials know the system works.
The New York court has a zero recidivism rate, the report states, meaning no offenders were rearrested, reconvicted or reincarnated within three years of their initial offense. The majority of offenses involve public disturbance, public intoxication and drug possession.
The taskforce will officially present its report to the governor, the state Senate and House presidents, and the Maryland Court of Appeals chief justice by Dec. 1, Peters said.