If there are so many "alternatives" to "mainstream" justice in America, why don't we reconstruct the system from something that actually promotes the kind of Justice that so many Americans have fought and died for, in and out of uniform?
By Walter F. Roche Jr.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
On the eve of Veterans Day, the first defendants appeared in the inaugural session of an Allegheny County court program aimed at keeping veterans out of jail for nonviolent offenses through a tightly supervised counseling program.
The three men, facing driving under the influence or similar charges, appeared before Common Pleas Judge John A. Zottola shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday.
"This is a chance for you to have someone else look at your case, another set of eyes ... from someone who has been there," Zottola said.
Under the program, defendants will be placed in supervised counseling programs with mentors and report back to Zottola in early December, when they have completed 50 percent of the program.
The mentors, all veterans, "know more about what you're going through than I," Zottola told one of the men, a 43-year-old Army veteran.
The special court is the result of a nearly yearlong effort by government officials and veterans advocates.
Ray Webb, who appeared on behalf of one of the defendants, said the veterans will be placed in programs run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Webb is a volunteer advocate for the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, a driving force in establishing the court.
If the veterans comply with the treatment program, that will be taken under consideration when they come before a judge for sentencing, Webb said. Graduation could lead to dismissal of the charges.
"It's still up to the judge and, if he (the defendant) doesn't comply with the program, then the hammer will come down," Webb said.
"The sentencing judge remains in control," said Common Pleas Judge Michael E. McCarthy, who led judicial efforts to establish the program, said the judge controls the sentence.
"We wanted to do this for Veterans Day," said McCarthy, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. "This is a little more than putting a flag out on your lawn."
Court officials have expressed hopes the county program, the first in Pennsylvania, will serve as a state model. Advocates say the program can not only help veterans stay out of jail, but also reduce costs.
Officials estimate about 10 percent of people incarcerated nationally are veterans.
Albert Mercer, executive director of the Veterans Leadership Program, said hundreds of county veterans could be diverted to the program each year and avoid jail time.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office sees the program as "a progressive way to improve the system," spokesman Mike Manko said.
McCarthy said funding remains to be resolved, but a pending bill in Congress could provide a permanent funding stream. He said that for the moment, the VA is placing participants in programs already funded.
"The VA has money for these programs, so this actually can save money for the state," he said.
Walter F. Roche Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7894.
Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...
This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.
Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.
Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.
I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.
In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.
I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.
I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281. email@example.com
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
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