ShareThis Page
Westmoreland County prepares to launch new veterans court program | TribLIVE.com
Westmoreland

Westmoreland County prepares to launch new veterans court program

Rich Cholodofsky
1011540_web1_web-courts9

Westmoreland County court officials will soon reactivate a special court to assist veterans charged with crimes.

After years of hiatus, a reinvigorated and enhanced veterans court — expected to begin operations by early May — will enable former members of the military convicted of crimes to earn reduced sentences.

“I think we have a need here,” said Common Pleas Court Judge Tim Krieger, who will preside over the new court.

Krieger, a retired Navy lieutenant, will oversee the criminal cases prosecuted against veterans as part of the program that will offer incentives such as shorter jail sentences or probation for veterans.

Cases will be selected by the district attorney’s office. Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro, a retired lieutenant colonel with the Pennsylvania National Guard, helped craft the new program. He said it was designed to offer counseling and treatment as part of the required supervision regimen for veterans.

Veterans charged with serious and violent offenses such as murder, assaults, sex crimes and other offenses where a state prison sentence is likely will not be allowed to participate. Oversight by counselors and the judge will be pivotal for the program’s success, Ciaramitaro said.

“Veterans have already shown they can have discipline. We’re trying to tap into that,” he said.

County officials attempted to form a modified veterans court in 2012. But that effort found little traction, in part, because of the limited number of minor offenses that were eligible for inclusion as well as a lack of incentive such as shorter jail sentences or probation terms.

In addition to a wider range of cases eligible for the program, the revised court will include mentoring from veteran volunteers, officials said.

The new court will be based in the county Common Pleas Court. The previous version of veterans court mostly involved cases brought at the magisterial district judge level and served as a jail diversionary program.

Westmoreland County is home to about 28,000 veterans — the second most in Western Pennsylvania, according to Matt Zamosky, director of the county’s Office of Veteran Affairs. He said there appears to be need and an increased level of interest in the new court.

“Veterans court is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You have to go through the motions,” Zamosky said. “Because of the nature of service, the nature of warfare, some people have trouble adjusting to normal life. This is a way to let a person’s service not have a negative impact on their life.”

Krieger said the new court will allow for more intensive supervision and better care for veterans.

“There is a camaraderie of being in the military that you don’t get anywhere else. Once someone gets out (of the service), there can be a sense of loss. Hopefully, we can rebuild that,” Krieger said. “If we can help these folks to begin becoming productive citizens, it’s a positive for everyone.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Westmoreland
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.