Veterans’ Courts – plot and character prospects

One of the Q&A in Books, Crooks & Counselors is how drug courts work. In answer, I mentioned other intensive supervision courts–for veterans, the mentally ill, DUI offenders, families, and young fathers. These specialized courts also offer writers an opportunity to explore social issues through fiction–one of the things modern crime fiction does particularly well.

Nearly 100 courts nationwide focus on veterans who have committed crimes–often involving drugs or alcohol, and not serious felonies. A combination drug and mental health court, vets’ courts address the special needs of vets with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, and other combat-related injuries, as well as substance abuse, anger, and challenges readjusting to civil society. By providing intensive supervision and access to services, the courts can help these defendants get their lives back on track–and reduce the risk that they’ll become repeat offenders, homeless, or otherwise unproductive.

The Missoulian recently reported on the first graduate of the first veterans’ court in Montana, who says he served five tours as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, and came back angry.

An earlier story describes the court’s purpose and structure. Participants sign a contract that includes a treatment plan. They agree to undergo drug testing, counseling, and daily phone check-ins for the first several weeks, and weekly in person check-ins with the judge. Depending on their needs, they may be ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. All need to be employed or searching for work, and job search assistance may be available. Mentors–all vets themselves–work with each participant.

According to reporter Gwen Florio, one participant says a big difference between veterans’ court and regular court systems is there’s not much complaining. “We’re grateful for the opportunity not to be in jail.”

Successful participation can result in a reduced sentence or deferred prosecution.

If a veterans’ court seems like a good addition to your story, get more information from the National Clearinghouse for Veterans Treatment Courts, a project of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, or check out the links in this Missoulian article.

(Photo of Lady Justice from the US Supreme Court website.)

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