Veterans Unit to open soon at Washoe County Jail

Published: Jan. 13, 2020 at 4:55 PM PST
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Veterans facing murder rape or other serious charge could not qualify to be part of the new unit at Washoe County Jail.

But those who choose to participate will be placed in an area where there are men who served in the military just like themselves.

The concept is already being used in the court system in Washoe County where you will often hear

a round of applause.

It is not a typical sound coming from a court room.

But it's the reaction by prosecutors, counselors, and parole and probation when a defendant cross a major threshold in Veterans Court at the Washoe County Courthouse.

The defendants meet with Judge Jerry Polaha to check in and let him know how they are doing.

The men are Veterans.

But they are also accused of driving under the influence, domestic violence, assault and other crimes.

They have selected to be part of this program which requires counseling, drug testing, and monitoring by the court on a weekly basis for approximately one year--sometimes longer.

Upon completion, the arrest and record can be expunged.

“Think about that,” says Judge Jerry Polaha, who presides over Veterans court, “Society tells you, you have violated the rules, we are going to punish you. Society also says, if you do this program, we will forget about it,” says the judge.

The program has been in existence since 2009 and for one defendant it was a life changer.

“If you do start slipping up, they check you rather quickly,” says Robert Brunsvold, a graduate from the court program. “It is not an easy program,” he says.

Brunsvold was in the Army for 20 years, law enforcement after that.

He says alcoholism helped him cope with personal problems until it couldn't.

He describes a courtroom full of Veterans as one that is familiar, disciplined, and encouraging-- something that can spell success for those who want it.

“Everybody is strong together, discipline together, you know on the same sheet of music, he says.” It just makes success that much easier.”

It is that concept that is making its way to Washoe County's Jail.

Soon there will be a unit specifically devoted to Veterans who find themselves under arrest.

Sergeant Andrew Venn says he noticed a change in inmates at the jail when he put about a dozen of them together.

They all had one thing in common--they were Veterans.

“There was an instant change in their demeanor,” says Venn. “They started talking to each other. Engaging with each other with suggestions. And the level of optimism and comradery went through the roof,” he says.

The Sergeant says the unit will not be run like a boot camp.

But there will be a regular schedule—with routine and discipline.

Counseling will be part of the program, but so will hooking these men up to programs they may not know to which they are entitled.

“One: We are going to reduce their stresses, so that when they go out, we are going to prepare them,” says Sheriff Darin Balaam, Washoe County Sheriff. “They are going to know when they go those programs, who to ask for if nothing else. And so we are going to give them a better chance of hopefully getting back on their feet, and the road to recovery,” he says

The jail is currently in contact with Veterans Court to help coordinate what can happen to the defendants who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Will it make a difference in their lives?

Will it have an impact on recidivism?

Or the jail population?

That's what the sheriff hopes to find out by gathering information and statistics from the inmates themselves to see what this program means.

“By implementing a unit like this we are going to have a baseline from before they go into the unit,” says Deputy Shannon Aller, who will coordinate the statistical information for the jail. “And then what their scores are and how they are feeling just before they leave. And if that is improving after they go into this unit they are more likely to be successful on the outside,” says the deputy.

The Veterans Unit at the Washoe County Jail hopes to open January 19th, 2020.