On July 9, Gov. Mike Parson signed several bills into law that would bring change to the criminal justice system, one of which focuses on veterans who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law because of substance abuse.
House Bill 547, which was introduced by a newcomer in the House, Rep. Dave Griffith R-Jefferson City. Griffith said that the bill was originally designed so every judicial circuit in Missouri would be required to establish a treatment court specifically for veterans, but a compromise had to be made before the bill could pass.
“Veterans that have been in combat and have been on the battlefield when they come back from that situation, they are different people then they were before they went into battle,” Griffith said. “Many of them were injured and out on medications, and they get addicted to opioids. When that prescription runs out, they turn to self medicating, like heroin or fentanyl and many times, find themselves on the wrong side of the law.”
Griffith said that while he would have liked to see a veteran’s court in each circuit, the bill now requires that each circuit have a treatment court of some kind that can be utilized by veterans and other citizens.
“It was brought to my attention that was going to put an undue burden on the judicial system, and it would actually place above other treatment courts that were in place,” Griffith said. “We compromised on that, and if there was not a veteran’s treatment court in that circuit, if they didn’t have one or could not create one because of administrative reasons or financial reasons, then they could defer that veteran to a treatment court.”
In Buchanan County, one such alternative treatment court has been in effect for 17 years which can work with up to 150 participants at one time. Prosecuting Attorney Ron Holliday, said that through the alternative treatment courts, he has seen many lives changed and taxpayer money saved.
“What we’re finding is, and this gives legislative approval to that, we need to find alternative methods of dealing with people locally in our communities that costs Missourians less money that are appropriate and successful,” Holliday said. “Some people this doesn’t work for, bit we want to give people every opportunity to remain out of jail, out of prison and that’s part of the thrust of this bill.”
Currently in Missouri, there is only one circuit that does not have some form of treatment court. According to the Treatment Courts Coordinating Commission there are 80 adult treatment courts, four juvenile treatment courts, 15 family treatments courts, 23 designated DWI courts and 13 veterans courts.
Griffith said that though the bipartisan-supported bill did not establish a veterans court in each of Missouri’s 46 judicial circuits, the popularity of the bill is spreading the idea of veterans courts.
“I went to a graduation in Boone County last month where they graduated four men, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Because now these men feel like society has not given up on them and that they do have a second chance.”
By Aug. 28, 2021, each circuit will have an established treatment court of some kind, offering an alternative for both veterans and others in need of substance abuse treatment.