Veterans who find themselves facing criminal charges as a result of behaviors instigated by combat- or service-related trauma will soon have an opportunity to access a new, specialized program.
This month the Kanabec County Attorney’s Office launched the Veterans Restorative Justice Program (VRJP), a diversion program for military veterans in the criminal justice system.
Under the new VRJP, Kanabec County veterans who are charged with certain qualifying crimes may be eligible for diversion to rehabilitative treatment in lieu of the traditional criminal justice process. This could lead to a dismissal of the criminal charges.
The program involves intensive supervision and monitoring of the veteran’s treatment by treatment providers, the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Kanabec County Veteran Services Office, Court Services and the County Attorney’s Office.
The VRJP is a voluntary process. To be eligible for the VRJP, the applicant must be an active (to include Reserve and National Guard servicemembers) or former member of the United States armed forces who received a general discharge or an honorable discharge from duty, and the charges must have some causal connection to his or her military service. The Kanabec County Attorney’s Office retains sole discretion over admission to the program, based upon qualification of the applicant and the criminal charges pending.
The purpose of the VRJP is to provide veterans with the tools they need to address chemical use and mental health issues for successful re-entry into the community to lead productive and law-abiding lives.
While the Kanabec County Attorney’s Office has always recognized veteran-related issues and other special circumstances of the offender, among many other factors, when resolving criminal matters, the introduction of the VRJP formalizes this effort, and improves our ability to identify veterans and to bridge veterans with the resources available to them to treat their service-connected conditions.
The goals of the VRJP are to protect public safety, acknowledge the service and sacrifice of Kanabec County veterans, reduce veteran contacts with the criminal justice system, provide veterans with needed services and support, and to reduce costs to the public.
Any veteran who is interested in volunteering as a VRJP veteran mentor may contact Erica Bliss at the Kanabec County Veterans Service Office.
This VRJP was eventually intended as a collaborative effort between Pine, Isanti, Chisago, and Kanabec counties. According to Kanabec County Attorney Barb McFadden, disagreements on policy, process or procedure led Kanabec County to withdraw from the collaborative and create its own program.