Minnesota has new restorative justice plan to help veterans who commit low-level crimes

October 21, 2021

Minnesota is changing the way its criminal justice system handles veterans charged with less-severe crimes, with an emphasis on connecting them to court-ordered services and treatment programs in lieu of prosecution and jail time.

The bipartisan Veterans Restorative Justice Act (part of SF 2, a bill from this year’s special session) was signed into law this summer. The law is for individuals who have service-related issues such as chemical exposure, physical injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It creates a specialized sentencing structure for these veterans; the state’s goal is to help them heal from service-related traumas and conditions. A judge will place individuals on probation and set conditions for supervision — for example, treatment, education and rehabilitation. If the terms of probation are met, charges are dismissed.

In different parts of Minnesota, as well as most states in the Midwest, veterans treatment courts already are in place. Earlier this year, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics released a national study of veterans in state prisons. They made up 7.9 percent of the total state prison population in 2016, and a little more than 30 percent of these veterans were serving time for a nonviolent offense.