Proportional Response: The Need for More—And More Standardized—Veterans’ Courts

Over the past two decades, judges and legislators in a number of states have recognized significant shortcomings in the ways traditional systems of criminal corrections address cases involving criminal offenders who are veterans of the U.S. armed services. This recognition has come at a time when policy-makers have similarly recognized that, for certain subsets of criminal offenders, “diversionary” programs may achieve better policy results than will traditional criminal punishment. In accordance with these dual recognitions, some states have implemented systems of veterans’ courts, in which certain offenders, who are also U.S. veterans, are diverted into programs that provide monitoring, training, and occupational and psychological counseling in lieu of imprisonment. Because these veterans’ courts have been created on an ad hoc, state-by-state basis, it remains unclear exactly how such courts should be implemented in order to be most effective. This Note argues that the evidence currently available suggests that veterans’ courts are a good policy choice, in that they can have a positive impact on state criminal systems by reducing recidivism among offenders and by conserving state resources. Accordingly, this Note argues, states should pursue diversionary programs for at least some subset of U.S. veterans because: (1) the U.S. government has already invested significant resources in training veterans and helping them to develop skills; (2) in many cases the behavior that leads to a veteran being incarcerated stems at least in part from service-related trauma, suggesting that addressing the trauma may correct the behavior; and (3) as a matter of equity, those who have served in defense of the United States may be due special consideration in light of their special sacrifices. This said, given the difficulties inherent in determining which veterans, in which cases, should be afforded the benefits of these diversionary programs, that there is no coordinated state action in this area, and that many of the potential benefits of veterans’ courts can best—or perhaps only—be realized through a standardized, uniform model, the federal government should promulgate standards for implementing such programs in state court systems.