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Our Pro-Veteran Communist Justice System

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the justice system is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you. In this case “soft on crime”.)

Recently, I watched a segment on 60 Minutes about veteran’s courts. While On V avoids endorsing individual politicians, we enthusiastically endorse veteran’s courts.   

Veteran’s courts specialize in sentencing veterans who have returned home from war. As 60 Minutes explains, “Around Houston, in Harris County, Texas, 400 veterans are locked up every month.” Seeing this problem, a veteran and Texas State District Judge Marc Carter came up with a solution:

“In 2009, Carter and other volunteers opened a court just for vets who've committed first time felonies, things like assault, robbery, drunk driving, spousal abuse. After arrest, vets have a choice, go through the regular system or come to this court with its mandatory two years of treatment and supervision.”

Why this program? Judge Carter explains:

“You have to put [veterans] in a program that's going to help them, that's going to make them be successful. If you just put them out there on probation they are going to fail. If you put them on probation that is tailored to deal with their problems, PTSD and drug use, then they'll be successful. They won't have to go to prison.”

As effective as this system sounds, something about it didn’t sit right with me (Eric C). Something felt wrong about it. Unjust.

First, it doesn’t feel fair to create a Starship Troopers-esque two-tier justice system where veterans get special treatment over civilians.

But that’s silly. The system is fair, for a not-so-obvious reason. Many veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress, sustained from going to war. People with PTSD are more likely to engage in destructive or illegal activity. Ispo facto, some of the crimes committed by veterans are mitigated by the fact that they got PTSD as a direct result of serving our country.

But thinking about PTSD made me think about something else: a This American Life episode from a few months back on education.

One of the big problems for troubled youth is...you guessed it, PTSD. From neighborhoods racked with gun violence or homes suffering from domestic abuse, many kids develop defense mechanisms that hamper them from living normal, everyday lives. This American Life explains the problem:

“What this new science seems to indicate is that what is holding these children back is not poverty. It's not the lack of money or resources in their homes. It's stress. If you grew up in a poor household, it is more likely to be a household the just stresses you out in ways that kids in better-off homes are not stressed out. And that stress prevents you from developing these non-cognitive skills.”

And then I figured out why veteran’s courts didn’t sit right with me: everyone should have access to it, not just veterans. If society--broken homes, domestic abuse, and so on--cause children to grow up more likely to cause crimes, our criminal justice system should try to fix the underlying psychological issues, just like they do for veterans. The always insightful Dahlia Lithwick explains it better than I can:

“Perhaps the inevitable conclusion here is the one nobody wants to say out loud: We have known for years that treatment works better than incarceration when it comes to criminal defendants with drug and mental-health problems. Close supervision and monitoring work better than casting our most vulnerable citizens adrift or tossing them into overcrowded jails with inadequate resources...But the fact that veterans courts seem to work as well as they do suggests a more fundamental lesson about correcting what's broken in the criminal justice system...You don't have to oppose veterans' court to want that type of justice for all.”

Consider this yet another exhibit in the theory-not-practice point of “Our Communist Military”. Conservatives are, in general, tough on crime. According to the Wikipedia page on US incarceration rates, Republican controlled states lead the country in per capita prisoners. Like Texas. Texas has the nation’s fourth highest incarceration rate. Texas has executed more people than any other state since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty (11th overall, per capita).

Yet deep in the heart of Texas, something odd has popped up: a court system designed to rehabilitate criminals, er, veterans. Conservatives want to be tough on crime. But they love veterans. And those veterans are committing a whole bunch of crimes...so they become “soft on crime”?

We’re writing this series to look at what our country can learn from the military. In this case, the system does right by offering mental health services and rehabilitation to its criminals, er, veterans. It’s more effective and more just.

It’s a shame it takes service to our country to make conservatives realize that rehabilitation makes more sense than punishment.

One comment

I would also argue that most soldiers don’t want special treatment one way or the other. Most soldiers want to do their duty then return home to being a civilian. (Though they do probably want the opportunity veteran’s courts afford.)