Report: Establishing Veterans Treatment Court in Manhattan

Report: Establishing Veterans Treatment Court in Manhattan

First implemented in Buffalo, NY, in 2008, Veterans Treatment Courts seek to connect veterans in the criminal justice system as a result of untreated mental health conditions with treatment, benefits, and support to get them back on the right track.[1] Veterans Treatment Courts are currently operating in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens, and one is in the process of being established in Staten Island. There is currently no Veterans Treatment Court in Manhattan, with the exception of the Midtown Community Court, which has a Veterans Court for misdemeanors only within its catchment area.[2] A total of 86.41% of respondents indicated that they view this as either essential or very important.

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Testimony on Manhattan Veterans Treatment Court. In February 2015, the NYC Veterans Alliance testified at a City Council hearing in favor of establishing a Veterans Treatment Court in Manhattan.[3] This testimony cited strong support for this initiative from survey respondents thus far. The NYC Veterans Alliance made the following recommendations:

  • Veterans Treatment Courts should be operating across all boroughs of NYC, and seek to apply and standardize the best practices of veterans treatment courts in NY State and across the country.
  • Veterans Treatment Courts in NYC should involve judges and staff with an understanding of military culture and the military-specific challenges of veterans in order to be effective.
  • Veterans Treatment Courts in NYC should have veterans on a separate docket and involve Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists from the VA in all cases.
  • Veterans Treatment Courts in NYC should be understood and implemented as trauma-informed, treatment-based systems that regularly involve a range of stakeholders acting as a veteran support network.
  • An ombudsman or similar entity should be available to take in complaints and input from those treated by or working within NYC Veterans Treatment Courts to ensure effectiveness and consistency of services across all boroughs.
  • Best practices should be solicited, reviewed, and implemented on an annual basis. 

Authority for Implementation. Despite vocal support of the Manhattan Borough President, the NYC Public Advocate,[4] and other key advocates, it remains uncertain when a Veterans Treatment Court will be implemented in Manhattan. Decision-making authority on a Manhattan Veterans Treatment Court rests with the Manhattan District Attorney in coordination with the NY State Unified Court System.[5]

Proposed Veterans Criminal Justice Task Force. In May 2015, the City Council Veterans Committee introduced a bill that would create a task force to study the issues confronting veterans involved in the criminal justice system, and to issue a report no later than July 2016 with recommendations on how to limit the involvement of veterans in the criminal justice system, assist veterans transitioning out of the criminal justice system, expand legal services available to veterans, and other recommendations the task force finds appropriate. The task force would have representatives from MOVA, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the Department of Correction, the Department of Probation, NYPD, and veteran appointees of the Mayor and Speaker of the City Council.[6] The report would include information on incarcerated veterans. 

Respondent Comment. One respondent made a comment about veterans in the criminal justice system:

  • Establish a separate area for veterans incarcerated in Rikers Island Jail.

Recommendations. If veterans should fall into contact with the criminal justice system, they should be treated the same across all five boroughs. Veterans arrested in Manhattan, for example, should receive the same access to resources and treatment alternatives to incarceration that a veteran arrested in Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx currently does. We therefore make the following recommendations: 

  1. NYC officials should communicate with the Manhattan DA, NY State Unified Court System, and NY State senators or assembly members as needed to determine a near-frame timeline for implementation of a Veterans Treatment Court in Manhattan. Veterans Treatment Courts must be established and fully functional across all five boroughs to ensure fair and equivalent treatment of veterans involved in the criminal justice system.
  2. The bill creating a Veterans Criminal Justice Task Force should be passed by City Council and signed into law by the Mayor without delay.
  3. Veterans incarcerated at Rikers Island and city detention centers should have their cases reviewed for treatment and access to services that could better their conditions, assist with reintegration into communities upon release, and prevent future involvement with the criminal justice system.
  4. Veterans Treatment Courts in NYC should follow best practices of veterans treatment courts in NY State and nationwide, such as: involving judges and staff with an understanding of military culture and the military-specific challenges, and holding veterans on a separate docket and involving Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists from the VA in all cases. Best practices should be solicited, reviewed, and implemented on an annual basis. 
  5. Veterans Treatment Courts in NYC should be understood and implemented as trauma-informed, treatment-based systems that regularly involve a range of stakeholders acting as a veteran support network.
  6. An ombudsman or similar entity should be available to take in complaints and input from those treated by or working within NYC Veterans Treatment Courts to ensure effectiveness and consistency of services across all boroughs.

 

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