Veterans Treatment Court a good investment for community

July 5, 2012 

The Olympian editorial page recently commended King County for its establishment of a Veterans Treatment Court and challenged Thurston County to follow suit. The good news is that Thurston County does indeed have a Veterans Court.

In fact, Thurston County’s Veterans Court was the first one established in Washington and the 12th nationally. The first session of our court was held in July 2009. Our Veterans Court team has been actively involved in helping to establish Veterans Courts in Clark County, Spokane County, Seattle and King County.

I was invited to speak to the King County Council in August 2011 to help encourage the creation of a Veterans Court in King County. We now have six Veterans Courts in the state and more than 120 nationally.

As a county, as a state and as a nation we are recognizing the importance of creative responses to the needs of those we have asked to defend us. The stress of military duty and the exposure to the horrors of war can contribute to an otherwise law-abiding person engaging in criminal activity. We owe it to our service members to develop alternatives to the traditional criminal justice response to criminal activity. Veterans Courts serve those who have served us.

The good news is that we have had a Veterans Court in Thurston County for the last three years and have graduated 10 veterans from our two-year accountability and treatment program and currently have 17 participants.

The bad news is that we have apparently not done a good job letting our community know we are here. Bear with me as I attempt to fill this information gap.

We are one of seven specialty accountability and treatment courts currently serving Thurston County. I preside over Veterans Court and Mental Health Court. Judge Carol Murphy presides over Drug Court and DUI Court. Judge Anne Hirsch presides over Family Recovery Court. Commissioner Chris Schaller presides over Juvenile Drug Court and Commissioner Indu Thomas presides over Family Treatment Court.

Specialty accountability and treatment courts are a cutting-edge response of the judicial system to jail overcrowding and to the inability of government to adequately fund needed services for the most vulnerable in our communities.

With the exception of the Family Treatment Court, these courts receive significant funding from the Treatment Sales Tax. This 0.01 percent sales tax was approved by the county commissioners in 2008. This is money well-spent because it leads to significant reduction in jail costs and also leads to better outcomes for the community, the victim and the defendant.

We have invested significant time analyzing the impact of these courts. Our analysis shows that these courts have received $2.1 million in treatment sales tax dollars for the years 2010 and 2011 and have saved County taxpayers $5.4 million.

By any measure, money well-spent. The Treatment Sales Tax expires in 2016 and it is our fervent hope that the county commissioners reauthorize it.

Thurston County has always been a place where the citizens are willing to think outside the box in addressing the challenges we face. The presence of seven accountability and treatment courts in a county our size speaks volumes about our commitment to find effective, albeit nontraditional, solutions to sometimes seemingly intractable problems.

My thanks to our county leaders, members of the Thurston County bench and the citizens of our community for supporting these efforts.

Brett Buckley is the presiding judge for Thurston County District Court.

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