Graduates of court program designed for military veterans to be honored

Program designed to provide veterans with alternatives to jail

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - Six military veterans who successfully completed a Riverside County Superior Court program designed to provide alternatives to jail will be recognized Friday.

   Attendees of the Veterans Court will receive graduation certificates during a ceremony scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at the Riverside Historic Courthouse. 

   This is the court's second graduating class since the program began in January 2012. 

   Superior Court Judge Mark Johnson, an Army reservist and former defense attorney, oversees the Veterans Court, which is convened once a week at the downtown Riverside courthouse. 

The program offers resources to veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or who have substance abuse issues or psychological problems stemming from their deployment to combat zones or experiences that led to childhood trauma, according to court officials. 

   In exchange for having their cases heard in the Veterans Court, defendants have to plead guilty or consent to their probation being reinstated.  Felons and misdemeanants are eligible to participate.

They're placed in 12- to  18-month-long treatment programs that include group therapy, substance abuse  counseling and alcohol monitoring. Participants must be available to make regular progress reports to the judge. 

   Agencies partnering in the effort include the District Attorney's Office, the Mental Health and Probation departments, the Office of the Public Defender, the Riverside Police Department and the U.S. Veterans Administration.

   The keynote speaker will be Seymore ``Sy'' Kaplan, a World War II  Army veteran who fought under General George S. Patton and now resides in the Coachella Valley. 

    Rep. Mark Takano, D-Riverside, is also expected to be on hand. 

   In 2012, the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded a three-year $350,000 grant in support of the program. 

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