Taking the Hill with Patrick Murphy   |  January 26, 2014

Prioritizing treatment over prison time

Ari Melber and Patrick Murphy discuss special courts focused on helping troubled veterans and Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent comments about focusing on rehabilitation rather than incarceration.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> welcome back. giving troubled veterans a second chance, new courts across the country help vets struggling with substance abuse and mental issues focusing on treatment over prison. five veterans graduated from one of the programs this past week in roanoke, virginia. attorney general eric holder was on hand to praise the program and the participants.

>> there's a crying need for more of these kinds of efforts. we owe a special debt to the men and women in our armed forces , many of whom develop illnesses, whether they are physical or emotional, and they have difficulties sometimes transitioning back into the civilian sector.

>> my friend ari melburn was that the week's graduation and joins me here on set. ari, thank you so much for being here.

>> sure.

>> talk about veterans courts. what are they and how are they working?

>> you have about 140,000 vets in prison. 60% have substance abuse programs. a big portion of this is private drug or alcohol abuse and not other more dangerous criminal activity. there are over 100 courts like this at the state level and the one i visited with the attorney general on thursday is just the second federal court . what he wants to do is use these to give people a pipeline to rehab instead of prison.

>> these are really popping up in counties across america. how about the return investment? are they working?

>> at the state level, the idea to go back to crime is lower through the program than the traditional mechanism so that's a big victory with two federal that are relatively recent, we don't know yet. what i saw and i interviewed some veterans that went through the program, they were struggling with substance abuse related to time abroad. coming back under emotional strain or ptsd, the type of things you have reported and that where in the words of one judge they were self medicating. they needed help and putting them in prison wasn't the kind of help they needed.

>> this is a groundswell of support and support of veterans administrations in the state level and county levels. how about the attorney general? does he want to mirror this in the federal side?

>> exactly, he does. he is looking at this program and drug courts for the same idea to treat the root social problem and another point that resonates of veterans and veteran families that's watching is a judge said in conjunction with the attorney general, going through this program emotionally with discipline is harder than just walking off and doing a three-month or six-month jail bid and might harden you but what's court-mandated rehab and coming back, that's personally difficult. this is not easy. this is not a freebie for these folks but gives them a mechanism to do something other than rot away in a jail. i thought that was powerful. the attorney general says the programs are working and visiting them and been funding them through the smart on crime initiative and may hear more about on tuesday in the state of the union .

>> ari, thank you so much for that report. and for all that you're doing.

>> you bet.

>> you can catch ari and the "cycle" team weekdays 3:00 p.m . here on msnbc. um next, "the meet tmet the