Second chance court targets East TN veterans

Knox County quietly launched a new court six months ago targeting military veterans in trouble with the law. It’s a big move that has the potential to help hundreds, if not thousands of veterans in East Tennessee.

“There’s been a 25 year history of problem solving courts across the country and by starting a veterans treatment court, Knox County is right there in a leadership role,” said General Sessions Judge Chuck Cerny, who oversees the new Veterans Treatment Court in Knox County.

Supporters of the court say the goal is to move veterans who qualify into counseling and job programs rather than simply locking them up for their crimes.

“We think as veterans they deserve a second chance in most cases,” said Frank Vollmer, who served in the Army during Vietnam and now serves as volunteer mentor attached to the new court. Mr. Vollmer helped guide the first graduate of the program through counseling sessions and made himself available around the clock by phone in case his veteran needed advice or simply to talk.

“We’re trying to be their supporter and their friend and that starts day one,” said Mr. Vollmer.

Potential candidates for the court are identified as soon as they run through the booking process at the jail intake center. A form asks if they have ever served in the military. If the answer is “yes” screeners for the court look at their crimes, background, and whether the inmate has an interest in committing to, in most cases, a year long program packed with counseling sessions and work requirements.

“If you can turn a life around there is no further cost of incarcerating that person. Maybe that person pays back the money they stole. Maybe they get a job and start paying taxes again,” said Judge Cerny, who predicts the program will not only save taxpayers money in the long run but serve hundreds of military veterans hungry to make a positive change in their lives.

For more information about the Veterans Treatment Court: 865.336.2624 or www.tnvhc.org

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