New court planned in Hampton to address veterans’ needs

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – Addressing the needs of veterans who commit crimes, without jail time: That’s the goal of a new court planned for the City of Hampton.

City council will vote Wednesday on a budget that includes money for the program.

Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney Anton Bell told 10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings veterans need resources allocated to help them because of their varied experiences. He explained this is a priority because of the large number of veterans in Hampton Roads.

“Our veterans have served us in so many ways and have sacrificed in so many ways, so this is a great opportunity to give back,” he said.

There is $34,000 allocated in the city’s upcoming budget for the veterans court.

“That money would be crucial in us being able to get the court established as well as being able to continue to fund the resources necessary for those individuals to have their lives transformed,” Bell said.

Right now, Hampton has a drug court with a veterans track. That court only handles drug offenses and some veterans can be selected to participate in a program only if they have a substance abuse problem.

A veterans court would not only address substance abuse, but it may address things like mental health issues in veterans. The court would be an intensive alternative to jail time for non-violent offenses.

“We have to be mindful that they have certain needs that are different than those of ordinary lifestyles,” Bell said.

Hampton isn’t the only city working to help veterans. There is at least one other already up and running across the state, in Fairfax County.

The City of Norfolk has a veterans track through its adult drug court. The City of Chesapeake also has a veterans track and they are working to create a Veterans Court.

“It makes me exceedingly happy,” Don Northcutt said.

Northcutt coordinates the docket for the Fairfax veterans court — the first in the Commonwealth.

Document: Procedure for setting up veterans treatment dockets

Northcutt told Cummings he’s glad the state is moving toward more courts addressing veterans needs, but getting them up and running is no easy task.

“Changing the attitudes of people in the criminal justice system and in the courthouse can be difficult,” he said.

Northcutt said without the specialized programs, veterans would be recycled through the criminal justice system and their needs would go untreated.

“Typically, you would have people who would continue committing the offenses they’ve been committing. They’re going to spent more time either in the local county jail or in prison. Their treatment needs are not going to be met,” Northcutt said.

Hampton hopes to have its veterans court up and running in a few months.