SF celebrates first year of vet court

It's been a year since San Francisco introduced Veterans Justice Court which has the goal of connecting vets with the services they need.
March 5, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
It's been a year since San Francisco introduced a special court to deal with veterans who commit minor offenses. The idea is to offer treatment rather than jail. On Wednesday, the veteran justice court began its second year.

The folks in San Francisco heard about vet court in San Jose, they went to check it out, they liked what they saw and then they brought it to San Francisco. Now, it's here to stay.

It's Wednesday afternoon and veteran after veteran stands before Judge Braden Woods. All of them were caught committing a non-violent felony.

"Using drugs, alcohol to the excess where my life just got unmanageable, committing crimes," said veteran Warner Graves.

Others may be here for other offenses such as shoplifting or car break-ins. But this is not like your traditional courtroom.

"The biggest difference is that we're trying to get folks into treatment. The vets, they're earned these privileges in terms of free-medical, mental health through their service to this country. So we're trying to get them connected with the V.A. to get the services they need," said Judge Braden Woods from Veterans Justice Court.

So instead of going to jail, they come to vet court, enroll in the program to get help with problems like drug addiction, alcoholism or mental illnesses. They are closely monitored. Some have to check in with case managers and the court as often as three times a week.

Vet court is part of San Francisco's Community Justice Center. It too follows the same model -- helping people in the tenderloin and nearby neighborhoods get the services they need.

"So it's a very supportive court. Instead of having a judge scold you, they clap for your success," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Stephen Bennett was one of the first to enroll in the vet program. Even though he's now a graduate, he still has to report to court. He has managed to turn his life around. Bennett said, "Once I accepted it, I knew I had to move on and learn how to be... or go back to being a constructive citizen in society."

Both programs are gaining national attention for helping people break the cycle of incarceration and transforming their lives.


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