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Ramsey County program will provide help to veterans in legal trouble

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG
  • Star Tribune
  • January 15, 2013 - 11:28 PM

The Ramsey County attorney's office and several partners are launching a program to help veterans in legal trouble overcome obstacles that stem from military service.

The Ramsey County Veterans Justice Initiative will steer such veterans toward resources that address underlying issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, chemical dependency and housing, to help them become law-abiding, the attorney's office said Tuesday.

"I want to make sure the public understands that we're not trying to absolve people from responsibility and accountability," County Attorney John Choi said.

A host of organizations, including Ramsey County Veteran Services and the County Board, are partners in the endeavor. Programs of this kind have become increasingly popular across the country in recent years.

The St. Paul City Council is expected to pass a resolution Wednesday backing the initiative and pledging help from the city attorney's office. "This is one more way we can support our soldiers and help them find the tools they need," said Council Member Chris Tolbert, sponsor of the resolution.

The first such initiative was begun in 2008 in Buffalo, N.Y. In 2010, Hennepin County launched a pilot project that stressed treatment over incarceration. Washington and Anoka counties also have programs to help veterans.

Planning for the Ramsey County program has just begun, so it's too early to say what it will involve, Choi said. It could include diverting veterans to treatment through mental health and drug court.

It wouldn't guarantee veterans immunity from criminal charges, Choi said. They could still be prosecuted but receive help addressing underlying issues. Or they could be offered a stay of sentence or a continuance for dismissal by abiding by certain terms and conditions.

Partners will meet over the next nine months to devise a program that probably would not require hiring new staffers, Choi said. The county paid a $10,000 "management fee" to the Council on Crime and Justice for one full-timer and one part-timer to help with planning.

"This is not about a get-out-of-jail-free card," Choi said. "This is about helping these individuals because they deserve it."

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708; Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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