The United States Attorney General visited Roanoke on Thursday to share his vision for improving our justice system.
Eric Holder came here because one local program is ahead of the curve.
The program is called Veterans Treatment Court.
Its goal: instead of throwing veterans who have committed federal misdemeanors in jail, rehabilitate them by counseling and monitoring them.
It's one of two federal programs of its kind in the country, and Holder wants to see more just like it.
The most powerful lawyer in the United States says it simply: We're not going to jail our way out of criminal behavior.
“The goal, really, is to make the criminal justice system more fair, more just, more efficient, more effective,” Holder said.
Some say the Veterans Treatment Court is doing just that.
When the court determines there is an underlying issue causing veterans to commit criminal behavior, such as mental illness or substance abuse, they become eligible for the program.
Instead of throwing veterans in jail, Western District U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy, along with defense attorneys and judges, started focusing on helping them in 2011.
“They finally had someone believe in them, they finally had someone who provided them with treatment, recognition of their problem, and that gave them the tools to work on themselves,” Heaphy said.
Holder says this whole program is about breaking a cycle. He says all too often people get out of prison and don't have the resources to re-incorporate themselves into society.
“We want to deal with prevention activities so we don't get people into the system. We want to deal with rehabilitation of people who are convicted and then we want to deal with re-entry for people who are leaving the system,” Holder said.
Holder is traveling the country learning about rehabilitation and prevention experiments like these.
He says this needs to be the future of the justice system for many non-violent offenders.
Here in the federal system in Roanoke, the future is now.
HOLDER RESPONDS TO MCDONNELL INDICTMENT
Former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen are scheduled to be in court Thursday morning to be arraigned on federal corruption charges.
The couple is accused of illegally accepting gifts.
Some state Republicans are supporting McDonnell and calling this indictment an overreach of federal power.
We asked Holder if he thought the indictment was a step too far.
“What we did there was bring charges that I think are commensurate with the conduct that is alleged,” Holder said. “I really reject the notion that this is overreaching on the part of the government.”
Holder encourages people to look at the 43 pages of allegations and decide on their own if the indictment is fair.