FRANKFORT – The number of veterans involved in the criminal justice system has increased significantly in recent years, Justice Will Scott told members of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Thursday.
Justice Scott is the chair of the Veterans Issues subcommittee of the Kentucky Access to Justice Commission, a task force focused on identifying veterans in the justice system and then connecting them with appropriate services to address their needs.
Until recently, there was no standardized method of determining if a person involved in the court system had veteran status. Work by the task force and others has changed that, Scott said.
Pre-trial officers now classify individuals by veteran and combat status as part of the mandated post-arrest interview process. Similar information is now included on the Uniform Citation Report completed by police at every arrest, as well.
The information goes into a searchable database and enables court personnel to identify veterans in the system. This allows judges the option of requesting a veterans-only docket, and makes it easier to refer veterans to the programs they qualify for, Scott said.
Many veterans coming into the criminal justice system may be suffering from undiagnosed neurological or other combat-related injuries, Scott said. Veterans Justice Outreach Officers (VJOs) can assist qualified veterans by helping to divert their arrest with mental health of substance abuse treatment, he said.
A part of the Veterans Administration, VJOs offer assessment and case management to veterans involved in the justice system.
VJOs are also working to educate and train judges and others in the criminal justice system about the programs available to veterans involved in criminal and civil matters, Scott said.
Many veterans programs aren’t utilized because people don’t know about them, he said.