A special Philadelphia court designed to intervene in the lives of combat veterans whose experiences may be leading them into a life of crime was inaugurated this morning at the Criminal Justice Center.
"Those of us who served in uniform have an expression we like to use: Leave no one behind. Now it seems society is getting that," said Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Patrick F. Dugan, an Army veteran of the Iraq War, who is one of two judges who will preside over the new court.
Like other city "treatment courts," such as the Mental Health Court started last year and the city's Community Court, the Veterans Court will focus on veterans charged with misdemeanors - often the sign of underlying drug, alcohol or emotional problems and the first step to serious felony arrests.
Veterans accepted into the program will receive referrals to the Veterans Administration for medical or mental health referrals and will be matched with a volunteer veteran "mentor" to help them resolve their criminal cases and find a place in the civilian world.
Municipal Court President Judge Marsha H. Neifield said the new court would not need additional funding because court administrators have carved out courtroom time that is already staffed with judges, prosecutors and Public Defenders.
The Veterans Court is the third in Pennsylvania since last year - Pittsburgh and Scranton have programs running and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Associate Justice Seamus P. McCaffery said they hope to expand the program to other county courts.