When veterans return home, some have a tough time re-assimilating into civilian life. For some, mental illness and addiction have led to a cycle of crime, arrest and incarceration – only to be repeated. Sacramento County’s public safety departments have worked together to develop the Veterans’ Treatment Court (VTC) to help these veterans coming back from deployment address the distinctive needs and circumstances of each.
Several men sit outside of Department 39 in the Sacramento County Courthouse. All come from different walks of life, but have at least two things in common: they are veterans, and they have been convicted of a crime. Inside the courtroom, Judge David Abbott, who is also a veteran, leads a group of lawyers and peer mentors that review the cases. This is Veterans Treatment Court (VTC), the new program designed to put a stop to the cycle of veterans committing and repeating crimes after coming back from deployment.
“The Veterans' Treatment Court Program gives us an excellent opportunity to combine resources from several areas in a collaborative effort to curtail recidivism among a very special category of offenders,” says Judge Abbott. “I am quite optimistic about the ultimate success of this program.”
District Attorney Jan Scully states, “This new collaborative court is one of many created to treat the root rather than the effects of criminal behavior. VTC allows us to address the unique needs and circumstances of each veteran and provide them with comprehensive monitored rehabilitative services and mental health treatment instead of traditional sentencing options.”
The program is not a one size fits all, but rather a collective decision on how to help each individual based on their situation and the crime they committed. Help comes in the form of DUI classes, substance abuse therapy, PTSD training and counseling, family and marriage counseling, AA meetings, community service, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.
“My job is to prove a connection between the crime committed and their service in the military, whether it be drug abuse or PTSD,” said Scott Franklin, Assistant Public Defender. “From there, we reconnect these heroes back with their community and build a structure which was not in place for returning veterans of Vietnam. We owe it to their service to fix the problem caused as a result of their service and change their behavior in time to prevent damaging actions.”
The participants, young and old, are more than happy to be a part of the program because not only are they out of jail, but they are pursuing a better life with a strong support group. One important person to each veteran participant is the peer mentor they’re paired up with. Mentors provide constant support to the veterans in the form of phone calls, home visits, and simply meeting up for lunch.
Randy Smith is a volunteer to the program and coordinates all the peer mentors. “These volunteers in the program are also veterans and provide a type of comradery similar to what the soldier had while deployed. These men come home, are dropped onto a street somewhere, and are expected to know how to behave. It’s a different world over there and our job is to help them transition.”
Successful participants may get their record expunged and receive help with fines. The program has been up and running for six months and there are currently 11 men participating. A $350,000 grant for the next three years was just received from the Bureau of Justice Assistance Drug Court, and will go toward a dedicated probation officer for the program. “Probation will supervise the participants and connect them to resources and services,” explains Assistant Division Chief Carol Paris. The program is slowly gaining momentum and federal interest may mean the program’s expansion in the future.