Veterans court

Boston Municipal Court Judge Eleanor Sinnott runs a special voluntary session for vets looking to avoid jail time by complying with alternative sentences.

What makes specialty courts for drugs, housing, and now veterans so effective? Well, for the veterans treatment court, which is relatively new, they realized that there were things about veterans that made it so that a court dedicated to them would be very helpful for their overall treatment and well-being. We have veteran-specific services and resources. We have a military culture where they support each other, where they help each other. That provides an environment where they can recover, they can do well, they can get back to a life where they are law-abiding citizens and productive members of society.

How does the court differ from a regular session? It’s more rigorous than most probation programs. It has at least twice-a-week drug and alcohol screening. They have to see their probation officer once a week. They get paired once a week with a mentor who is also a veteran. Then it gets stepped up. They have to abide by their treatment plan, make all of their appointments—mental health, substance abuse treatment. You’ll notice we have the veterans standing against the side wall. One of the reasons we have that is because they have studies showing with PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder], veterans will be hyperconscious of exits and people’s hands because that’s what they had to focus on to survive in the battlefield. You want to see the hands because that’s where the weapon is and you want to know how to get in and out. They don’t like people behind them. We’re focused on trying to create an environment where they’re most comfortable.

What makes you the person to do this? I have served in the US Navy for 10 years and in the reserves as an intelligence officer. I worked with the special operations command so I have seen the physical tolls, the mental tolls on our veterans. I am familiar with the military culture.

What would qualify someone to be able to enter into the veterans’ session? Their mental health or substance abuse problem has to be service connected.

What about the argument that you are creating not just a specialty session but a special way of handling people? I understand that argument, but these programs are really effective. They have a very high rate in terms of reduction of recidivism, and when you have reduction in recidivism you are saving huge on costs in terms of the judicial system and law enforcement. We still have Vietnam veterans that have mental health and substance abuse problems related to their service. They have been involved in our court system and the human costs of that in terms of the disruptions to their families, not being linked up to services that they are entitled to, is at a huge cost to society.

How about the effect on you? I always say that this is the only job that I’ve ever had that gets harder the longer I’m in it. Everything that I’m learning from here will definitely affect the way that I am in my other sessions, as any sort of life experience tends to, especially ones where you see people that are suffering or having a really difficult time.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

Why start each session with the Pledge of Allegiance? It’s a patriotic group. It’s something that shows respect for our country and their service.

At the end of a session, everyone recites “The Veterans Creed,” which your court created. What line resonates with you? “Excuses are not in my arsenal.”