Jon Campisi Dec. 28, 2012, 8:54am

Pennsylvania’s high court has instituted a program that would allow military veterans

facing jail time for minor crimes to instead serve out their sentence in the form of a supervised treatment program.

The state Supreme Court announced Dec. 26 that the Magisterial District Judge Diversion Program, which is aimed at assisting veteran offenders facing incarceration for minor criminal charges, would be piloted in Monroe and Westmoreland counties beginning on Jan. 1, 2013.

The program, which started in Centre County in November, and is believed to be the only such program of its kind in the United States, is being tested in the three Pennsylvania counties with the goal of developing blueprints for possible expansion statewide, according to a news release from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

The guidelines for the program were established by an AOPC committee.

“This program has been under development for over three years and is another step in the work we have been doing here in the courts of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the Veterans Administration, to assist returning veterans with their struggles to readjust,” Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery said in a statement. “What we hope to do here is divert these veterans into treatment before their problems escalate to behaviors that would result in a case getting to the Court of Common Pleas.”

Both McCaffery and Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, the two Philadelphia natives on the high court, are themselves military veterans.

They join more than one million veterans across the commonwealth.

McCaffery said the earlier the state is able to intervene, “the better for the veteran, the better for their family, the better for their community, and the better for the system.”

The pilot program comes on the heels of the implementation of a similar Veterans Court program that has been rolled out in Common Pleas Courts that also offers supervised treatment for veterans as an alternative to incarceration.

“By introducing earlier intervention at the magisterial district judge level, program planners hope to curb behavior from worsening among veterans with drug and alcohol abuse, anger management and post-traumatic stress disorder issues,” according to the AOPC press release. “In a collaborative arrangement with the state court system, the Veterans Administration provides treatment services.”

Under the new pilot program, a veteran charged with summary offenses such as disorderly conduct, public drunkenness or harassment could opt to participate in supervised treatment, as long as the county’s district attorney approves of the placement.

The criminal charges would be dismissed at the end of a successful six-month treatment period, although they could be restored if the veteran defendant does not comply with the terms of the program.

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