February 13, 2014

On Thursday January 16th the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the creation of a veterans docket aimed at helping veterans in the justice system connect with services. The goal of this project is to coordinate efforts within the local criminal justice system to reduce military veterans’ incarceration and recidivism rates by directing veterans to services and addressing their criminal risk factors and sources of instability. After hearing about the existence of Veteran’s Courts taking place in other parts of the country, Commissioner Judy Shiprack shared the idea with county departments. This resulted in a collaboration between the Department of Community Justice, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Veterans Administration, Metropolitan Public Defender Services, Inc. and the Circuit Court.

The vet docket agreement is part of a coordinated approach within the local criminal justice system for identifying military veterans, recognizing and assessing their unique needs, and systematically referring them to specialized services currently available in the community and for which many veterans are already eligible.

In 2013, Marty Clark, a Probation/Parole Officer in Adult Services, was given a special assignment to improve DCJ’s expertise in managing offenders who have served in the military. As Deputy Director Ginger Martin shared with the Commission at the Board presentation, in the past DCJ did not consistently identify Veterans who were under community supervision. However, over the past year with Marty’s leadership we have been increasing our efforts to identify Veterans under DCJ supervision. Another important area that Marty focused on was creating specialized probation/parole officers in each field office and in each specialty caseload with expertise about veterans. Marty’s work was key in helping to determine what role DCJ could play as we worked with our County partners on how to best serve Veterans in the justice system.

Among the responsibilities outlined in the memorandum of understanding is:
• The Sheriff’s Office working to identify veterans at the time of booking.
• The DA’s Office identifying cases in which defendants are veterans and considering the services available to veterans when engaging in plea discussions/negotiations and making sentence recommendations.
• Defense attorneys discussing services available through the Veterans Administration.
• DCJ providing specialized probation/parole officers in each field office and in each specialty caseload with expertise about veterans.
• The courts designating a circuit court judge who is knowledgeable about veterans’ specific needs.
• The Veteran’s Association justice outreach staff will assess eligibility for services and needs, facilitate rapid referral to services to qualified veterans, and have representation at all veterans docket proceedings.

At the Board meeting, Commissioner Shiprack called the program a modest one but one that represents a needed first step to help veterans who “put themselves in harm’s way for us.” With the endorsement by the Commissioners, the County can continue the work needed to get veterans the supports they need. DCJ is proud to have been a part of the creation of this strategy and looking forward to working with our partners to realize it.