Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 24, 2018

Making our justice system the best it can be

By Kevin Kinney

On Friday, Jan. 23, I went to the prison with other legislators to take a tour and discuss why the new prison is not up and running yet. The old prison is very dilapidated and causes many safety concerns, so we need to get the prisoners out of there and into the new one as soon as possible.
After our tour of the prison, I met with members of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. We met to discuss and gain more information on changing marijuana from a schedule 1 drug to a schedule 2 drug. This change in the law would simply acknowledge that the drug has some medical purposes.
In other justice-related news, Woodbury County officials recently told legislators about their special Veterans Court. Veterans throughout the country face unique issues after being deployed to combat zones.
Often these vets are coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury or substance abuse. Unfortunately, upon their return home, many become involved with the criminal justice system because of troubles related to their military combat experience.
To help, Veterans Courts have been established throughout the country to address the specific needs of veterans and ensure they get the services they are entitled to from the Veterans Administration. The Veterans Court model involves regular court appearances, mandatory treatment sessions and random drug testing.
Modeled on drug courts and mental health courts, Veterans Courts aim to keep more veterans out of prison. Veterans who have been charged with crimes can be placed on probation and diverted to the Veterans Court where they are closely supervised and required to adhere to strict conditions of probation.
Iowa now has its first Veterans Court in Woodbury County. Judge Jeffrey Poulson is heading it up. He says these courts are successful because they focus on the uniqueness of military experiences and have the expertise of Veterans Court staff to address them.
Woodbury County officials collected data regarding the number of veterans being booked into the county jail. Over a two-month period, the jail averaged one veteran per day. That is a significant number, which tells us we need to take a different approach to helping some of our veterans readjust to civilian life.