Coming Soon, Dallas County's Latest Specialty Court for Veterans

Back in January, the paper version of Unfair Park featured Megan Feldman's story on a specialized Dallas County court that's connecting ex-prostitues with treatment and, provided they stick with their rehabilitation program, keeping them out of prison.

Tuesday morning we learned about Dallas County's plans to help ease jail overcrowding with another specialty court, this one to get speedy trials for repeat property thieves who normally sit in jail while higher-priority cases go to trial first.

Completing the new specialty court trifecta, Unfair Park heard back late yesterday from State District Judge Mike Snipes, who just learned a grant award from the Texas Bar Foundation had come through to fund the county's first court just for veterans.

Based on a model that debuted in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008, the veterans court targets defendants who've been honorably discharged and also have a combat injury (including post-traumatic stress disorder) that contributed to the of felony or misdemeanor they're accused of. For sticking with a treatment program lasting at least six months, they'd stay out of prison and keep the offense off their criminal record.

Mental health and addiction treatment would be covered by defendants' Veterans Affairs benefits, which, Snipes points out, makes this court unique among pretrial diversion programs that otherwise have to cover the cost of treatment. Critics like Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed are less enamored of singling out veterans for special treatment in the courts.

Snipes, a West Point graduate who spent years on active duty before joining the Army Reserves, was still looking for funding when he attended last month's training in Austin on running a veterans court. Now, with a $50,000 grant lined up, the court will get rolling on May 10, for a preliminary meeting with the first seven defendants. Snipes emphasizes the program will begin with a very small group, though he hopes to admit up to 50 veterans at a time.

More on the program, plus a copy of the program's first grant application, follow after the jump.

Since the Texas Legislature opened the door last year, the state's first veterans court opened in Houston, followed by Denton County and, earlier this month, Tarrant County. Austin is probably next.

While Texas law allows for "a reasonable program fee" up to $1,000, plus the cost of treatment, Snipes says he hopes to avoid those in Dallas, though he isn't sure. "The goal is success through encouragement and accountability, not an additional stress factor," he says. To help lock up more grant money and keep the program running, Snipes says he hopes to draw on support from his connections in the military, while he also chases down funding from the governor's office, the Texas Veterans Commission and Dallas County.

Specialized Veterans Court for Dallas County Grant Application

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