Kingman considers adopting veterans court model

Repeat offenses can drop dramatically

Mitch Kalauli

Mitch Kalauli

KINGMAN - When Lake Havasu City Consolidated Court Judge Mitch Kalauli and Mayor Mark Nexsen started Mohave County's first veterans court last year, neither man realized so many veterans would participate.

The success led Kingman Mayor Richard Anderson and City Manager John Dougherty to visit Kalauli's court with thoughts of establishing one here.

Kalauli at Tuesday's City Council meeting explained the court for troubled veterans and Anderson and members of the Council appeared receptive to the idea.

Kalauli pointed out 900,000 veterans suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder. Ten percent are in prison and a large percentage is homeless. About 18 a day commit suicide.

With numbers like that, Kalauli said it could be difficult for veterans to re-engage with society when they return home from the battlefield.

"They're taught to address a problem immediately," he said. "In basic they're trained to kill, to be as hard as they need to be to get the job done."

But they aren't taught how to set that training aside when they no longer wear the uniform.

The first attempt to address veterans who landed in legal hot water was drug court, but Kalauli said the intensive program works better for non-vets than veterans.

All that changed when Buffalo, N.Y., City Court Judge Robert Russell founded the first veterans court in the nation in 2008, 13 years after he founded drug court.

Russell's idea, said Kalauli, stemmed from his frustration with what he considered a failed attempt to help veterans: "He thought, maybe we're not addressing the issue."

Since that first veterans court, more than 200 have been established in the nation. Lake Havasu City is home to the first rural veterans court in Arizona.

While the vast majority of the more than 27,000 veterans living in Mohave County never wind up in front of a judge, some do and they keep coming back.

There's a reason why veterans courts are spreading across the country. They work.

Kalauli said the recidivism rate - the percentage of people who repeatedly get into trouble - for regular court is a staggering 70 to 85 percent. The rate for drug and DUI courts drop down to between 30 and 50 percent. Veterans courts, on the other hand, have a recidivism rate of about 10 percent.

"That's really unheard of," said Kalauli. "It just didn't happen."

Currently, there are 40 veterans involved in the court. One of them was re-arrested on a felony charge and one washed out. Two slipped, but still completed the program.

"These are amazing statistics," said Kalauli in asking the Council to support a veterans court in Kingman. "You can see the results are tangible."

While no firm dollar figures were discussed, Kalauli said every dollar spent is worth it, particularly when the long-term impacts are considered. "It changes their lives."

Kalauli said he thinks the program is successful because "it brings them back to a time when they were proud of what they were doing. We would never leave them on the battlefield and we won't leave them now."

Veterans must spend at least six months in the program and can be in it for up to a year and a half, depending on how long before they are stable.

He said some defense lawyers tell their clients who are veterans not to apply for the special court because it's too difficult to complete, said Kalauli.

Completing the program isn't easy, he said, but the reward is palpable.

"I let them know I appreciate them," he said. "It is really a powerful experience."

The City Council will further discuss the issue during budget talks Monday.