January 16, 2014

American Flag Photo by Ben Earwicker
Photo by Ben Earwicker
Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the creation Thursday of a veterans court aimed at helping veterans in the justice system connect with services that can help them.

The memorandum of understanding approved at the board’s Jan. 16 meeting is the product of a stakeholders group convened In 2012 by Commissioner Judy Shiprack to discuss the possibility of creating a veterans court in Multnomah County.

The idea is to coordinate efforts within the local criminal justice system to reduce military veterans’ incarceration and recidivism rates by directing veterans to services and addressing their criminal risk factors and sources of instability.

“The big change is that we now have a direct connection with our VA services,” Commissioner Shiprack said during the board’s discussion creating the county’s Veterans Outreach Project and Probation Violation Docket.

Veterans on felony probation for other than Measure 11 and domestic violence offenses are eligible for consideration in this project.

Among the participants who worked to create the veterans court with Commissioner Shiprack are the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Veterans Administration, Metropolitan Public Defender Services, Inc. and the county’s Department of Community Justice and Circuit Court.

Multnomah County Judge Julie Frantz called the county’s first veterans court a “collaborative and team effort.”

“This is really innovative,’’ added Metropolitan Public Defender Services Executive Director Lane Borg. “”We are cutting a larger swath than other veterans’ courts have been willing to do.”

Among the responsibilities outlined in the memorandum of understanding is:

  • The Sheriff’s Office working to identify veterans at the time of booking.
  • The DA’s Office identifying cases in which defendants are veterans and considering the services available to veterans when engaging in plea discussions/negotiations and making sentence recommendations.
  • Defense attorneys discussing services available through the Veterans Administration.
  • DCJ providing specialized probation/parole officers in each field office and in each specialty caseload with expertise about veterans.
  • The courts designating a circuit court judge who is knowledgeable about veterans’ specific needs.

Commissioner Shiprack called the program a modest one but one that represents a needed first step to help veterans who “put themselves in harm’s way for us.”