SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Military veterans charged with crimes are getting a second chance in Minnehaha County. If they qualify, they can avoid the traditional court system and go before a judge in Veterans Court. It’s one of several ‘problem-solving’ courts operating in the state.
Once a week, on the third floor of the Minnehaha County Courthouse, you’ll find a courtroom full of people with one thing in common—their military service to our country. On this day, two people are graduating from Veterans Court, a big accomplishment, getting their lives back on track. Many are battling addiction to drugs or alcohol and mental health disorders. Danny Roby will be graduating this month.
“In and out of jail. In and out of prison for the same thing, it was very hard. I couldn’t see where I was headed if would just keep drinking you know do the prison system, get out do the same thing but this program showed me how to give it up and give it up for good,” said Roby.
Veterans Court provides support they would not get in the normal court system. However, it’s not an easy way out; the Judge holds those in the program accountable, and it’s a lot of work. But for those who make it, the payoff is life-changing.
“I feel great,” said Roby. “I feel like I came a long way. I would do anything to protect my sobriety. Once again, I don’t ever want to let them down because I feel like they really care,” said Roby.
Not everyone qualifies for Veterans Court. There are certain criteria they have to meet.
“So you would be facing charges; unfortunately, that’s one of the things you’d be facing either a felony or misdemeanor charge here in Minnehaha County, you would then complete the application with your defense attorney, go through the legal screening, the mental health screening, and the chemical dependency screening,” said Program Coordinator Dez Kincaid.
“You get sentenced to veterans court, just like you get sentenced to probation, only veterans court comes with more accountability and more involvement.”
Roby also qualified because he served in the Army National Guard.
Current National Guard member Jessie Park is Roby’s volunteer mentor. She says Roby had his setbacks but the support system worked.
“He struggled, and then he got through his stuff, and he stuck to what he was required to do, asked to do, and then now he’s come through now where you hear his language where he is talking about the sobriety for his sake,” said Park.
Park is not only a mentor; she is the Mentor Coordinator. She says the program needs volunteers.
“Someone willing to walk with support this veteran, this brother-sister who is now really struggling with a lot of things and understanding that just your presence and your encouragement and your support is the thing that helps them get from that beginning struggle to the success story of the graduation that’s really kind of the heart of it,” said Park.
“Jessie and Danny, if you look at those two, they are two very different people from very different worlds, yet they’re, you know, connected. and they have gone through this journey together,” said Kincaid.
Park says mentors in Veterans Court are provided with special training.
“A lot of people think it is a time suck. A lot of people think that they have to be at every single court session or that maybe they can’t be the support that they idealize. And I think for anybody its a lot easier than what they are imagining it would be.. and a lot more rewarding than what they can possibly imagine,” said Park.
For more information on becoming a mentor in the program just follow this link.
Or email: email@example.com