Rehabilitation over incarceration is the goal of a new specialty court in Anne Arundel County aimed at helping veterans overcome legal troubles.
It's a different type of justice for some vets convicted of misdemeanors.
"Actually being here and having people to talk to, it's been really great," says Navy veteran Robert Fonseca of Glen Burnie, "I look forward to my Wednesday's when I'm going to be with the guys."
As a police officer in the Navy, Fonseca never saw himself getting into trouble. However, earlier this year, he says he got into a fight.
"When you built it all up, the anger and everything, any one little thing can trigger you to blow up," he says.
Fonseca now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After being charged with assault, Anne Arundel County Courts identified him through its new Veterans Treatment Docket. Fonseca was offered time in a treatment program instead of jail time. He took it. Every month Fonseca and a group of other veterans being treated meet with a judge to gauge their progress.
His counselor, Jim Haskell, says veterans accused of certain crimes are usually dealing with underlying issues.
"You often can find a mental health condition or a substance abuse addiction," says Haskell, a Veterans Justice Specialist at the Maryland VA Health Center in Baltimore. Many of the people in the Veterans Treatment Docket end up in his "Strength at Home" peer support program. He says the treatment option often takes longer than serving a sentence, but can have a longer lasting impact.
"The whole goal of our program is to reduce recidivism, or the tendency of people to re-offend or be recommitted," Haskell says.
After months in treatment, Fonseca says he's doing so well that the Judge has asked him if he'll serve as a mentor to others going through the same process. It's a common understanding that he says is breeding success.
"I can't go around with a card saying, 'Hey, I have PTSD,'" he says. "So actually having someone that understands that... the judge is amazing. He's very grateful. He's very understanding. He wants to help us and he wants to help others, and I think that makes a big difference."
Two years ago, Baltimore City also started a similar program for veterans going through the legal system there. That was the first in the state.
There are about 300 specialty courts serving veterans across the country.