Utah Veterans Court

“I think I’ve got a personal, moral obligation, I feel very strongly about that, to help them in any way that I can.”

-Judge John Baxter

The men and women of today’s military face a variety of challenges at home and abroad.  Many returning from combat zones around the world find it difficult to assimilate back into the community.  It is estimated that 10% of the 2.3 million Americans in jail or prison are veterans.

Veterans Courts are developing in communities across the country as a solution.  In Utah, a recent KSL news story, New Court Helps Veterans Steer Clear of Serious Trouble, profiles one such court:

  • Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill came up with the idea while he was Salt Lake City prosecutor. The collaboration between the Salt Lake Veterans Administration and justice courts started six months ago. A veterans court in Salt Lake’s federal courts system started up in March and the 3rd District Court is working to develop a similar program.
  • “If we can intervene at this point, and encourage and support treatment intervention, before people hit that felony level behavior, then I’ll consider this court to have been a success,” Baxter said.
  • Veterans Court meets in the Salt Lake Justice Court twice a month. Baxter hopes to keep small cases from growing into felonies that lead to jail or prison time. Without intervention, vets in jail are at significant risk for mental health problems, medical issues, drug and alcohol abuse and re-incarceration.

Veterans Courts work.  These alternatives, and others like them, are collaborative problem-solving efforts that strengthen communities.  Addressing the crime problem in meaningful ways requires more than punitive sanctions. Fortunately, there are people like Sim Gill and Judge Baxter who recognize the opportunities available with alternative sanctions.