Bill proposes more compassionate way to handle veterans in the criminal justice system

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Minnesota legislators may consider a bill that takes a different approach to how veterans are handled in the criminal justice system.

Not all jurisdictions in the state have a veterans court, similar to a mental health, DWI or drug court that takes a more treatment-centered approach. A bill called the Veterans Restorative Justice Act could bridge the gap and end disparities in the criminal justice system across the state.

"It sets up a structure that any judge in any county in Minnesota, whether they have a veterans court or not, can immediately begin using this model to begin helping veterans who are appearing in front of them and more effectively manage their issues and get them in contact with the V.A. for appropriate care and, we think, getting much better outcomes," Brock Hunter, co-founder and president of the Veterans Defense Project, said. Hunter says history provided a blueprint for this kind of approach. 

"The Vietnam generation, I think we failed in many, many regards," Hunter said. "A lot of Vietnam veterans have been cycling through the criminal justice system and homelessness and and addiction ever since they came home from their war 40 years ago. Our mission is to ensure we do a better job this time around with this generation of veterans."

Hunter says Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Washington County Attorney Pete Orputt  support the bill, as well as Governor Walz and other criminal justice reform advocates. It's being introduced Tuesday night at a panel discussion at the Landmark building in St. Paul.

He's optimistic it can pass this session.