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Veterans Restorative Justice Act Offers More Than Alternatives to Jail in Minnesota

by Douglas Ankney

On August 10, 2021, a crowd of veterans’ organizations, prosecutors, defense attorneys, lawmakers, and other interested parties gathered outside the Minnesota State Capitol to watch Governor Tim Walz symbolically sign into law a measure he had approved weeks earlier in a private setting—the Veterans Restorative Justice Act (“Act”).

The Act sets up diverse pathways within the criminal justice system to assist veterans who struggle with injuries, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, or chemical exposure. Veterans charged with lower-level offenses will be eligible for placement on probation and enter rehabilitative programming rather than going to jail.

“This is an opportunity for those veterans that are having those difficulties with the reintegration to have some help and assistance, something other than just going to jail, this gives them an opportunity to have another path,” said Larry Herke, Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner. While veterans’ courts have allowed for similar opportunities in certain parts of the state, supporters of the Act say those opportunities will now be available statewide.

Jeff Johnson, a Ramsey County Veterans Court graduate, spoke of the difficulties of adjusting to civilian life after 24 years of active duty service: “When I got out, I’ll be honest with you, even though I grew up here in Minnesota ... I felt like a Martian. It takes a lot of adjustment to figure out the society I hadn’t participated in in 24 years. [Veterans court] is not a place where a veteran gets his life back, not in the least. They get a new life.” 



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