Walker County establishes veterans court

It's not a "get out of jail free card". But beginning this week, Walker County is offering veterans facing criminal charges an option. Stand trial or enter veterans court for one year. Speciality courts are growing across the country. One reason is prison overcrowding.. This court looks at how to help veterans who break the law by getting them the help they need, rather than just throwing the book at them.{}Judge Greg Williams believes prison isn't necessarily rehabilitation. This Thursday, Williams will preside over the first veterans court in northwest Alabama.

"We're seeing more and more veterans in the last five years, and what the numbers are saying for the next ten years, than we've seen since World War Two," says Williams. "Most of your veterans are good hard working men and women and they're doing right, they're doing what they're supposed to be doing. But you have a small number of veterans who are dealing with issues."Only current or former members of the military who are arrested and face non violent criminal charges can go through this court."A person is not automatically accepted in the veterans court, they have to make an application,"says Williams.If a vet decides to enter the Walker County Veterans Court, they must make a one year commitment. They will be subject to drug testing and must appear for status hearings on a weekly basis."They will have to go. It's not voluntary. It's a system set up where we are taking away your choices on doing these things, because it's the only way that it's going to make you better." As part of the court, vets will be paired with a support group to hold them accountable. If a vet successfully completes the program, charges could be reduced or even dropped. Williams sees specialty courts like this one, continuing to grow."Mental health court, the most popular is probably your drug court. It encompasses most of the problems. If you take drugs out of the society then ninety percent of your crime would go away."A national survey on drug use show roughly sixteen percent of post{}9-11, veterans struggle with substance abuse. And nearly 20% suffer from some sort of mental health disorder. In 2012, Shelby County was selected to pilot the veterans court. They saw more veterans facing criminal charges in the court rooms. They've seen success with the programs.{}The focus was to keep veterans who were charged from committing new crimes. The veterans court will meet every Thursday at the Walker County courthouse annex at 9:00 AM.