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August 14, 2011

Floyd County judge planning veterans court

Military vets will receive treatment instead of prison

FLOYD COUNTY —  Floyd County Superior Court No. 3 Judge Maria Granger is planning to start one of the first courts for veterans in the state.

The Floyd County Veterans Treatment Court will be based on the drug court model. Both are examples of problem-solving courts which began in the 1990s to accommodate offenders who needed treatment not available through the regular court system.

Veterans courts deal with military veterans whose crimes stem from their struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues related to their combat experience. Granger said veterans deal with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injury and substance abuse. Those who commit violent crimes or other certain offenses will not be eligible.

Granger decided to start the program after seeing veterans, many of whom had been deployed multiple times, entering the court system.

“We have to be concerned with public safety, and we have to be concerned with recidivism rates,” Granger said.

If the prosecutor and judge agree, the defendant is offered treatment in lieu of prison. If the program is completed successfully, the charges will be dropped or an alternative sentence imposed. If the defendant fails to comply with the strict terms of the program or decides to withdraw, he or she could still face the original charges.

Granger has personal experience with military life. Her husband retired from the Indiana National Guard, and her step-son was killed in action five years ago.

“I’m starting the court not because of that but because I think it’s the appropriate vehicle to be an agent for change,” Granger said. “My background does give me insight into the challenges veterans face.”

In addition to mental health or substance abuse problems, Granger said veterans returning from military service deal with housing and employment issues.

“I think prison is an institution that is important to punish and deter and reform some individuals,” Granger said.

However, she believes some offenders would respond better to treatment than prison.

Granger hopes to have the court in operation by the first quarter of 2012. She planned to submit their application, including their mission, goals and organizational plan, this month to the Indiana Judicial System.

Granger expects the court will be approved as she has received positive feedback from a preliminary draft. If approved, the court will receive temporary certification.

There are more than 40 problem-solving courts in Indiana, including the Clark County Drug Court, but only one veterans court. Porter County has a Veterans Court, and Vanderburgh County has one in the planning stages, according to the Indiana Judicial Center’s website.

Granger said the program, which requires a commitment of 18 months to two years, is tough but provides the veteran with the benefit of a mentor. The court has already been working closely with the Veterans Affairs office in Louisville to provide counseling. The VA will help to oversee the treatment.

Earlier this year, the court began tracking the number of veterans that entered the court system through the jail. There were 36 through the second quarter.

According to statistics provided by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, there are more than 23.4 million veterans in the United States and one in five report symptoms of a mental disorder. One in four ages 18 to 25 met the criteria for substance abuse disorder as of 2006.

Although veterans are not more likely to be arrested than the general population, a 2000 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that 81 percent of veterans involved in the justice system had a substance abuse problem prior to incarceration.

Facts about veterans

23.44 veterans in the United States

1.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan

1 in 5 veterans report symptoms of mental disorder

1 in 4 veterans ages 18-25 met criteria for substance abuse disorder in 2006

As many as one-third of adult homeless population served in military

81 percent of veterans in justice system had substance-abuse problem

25 percent of veterans in justice system identified as mentally ill

- National Association of Drug Court Professionals


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