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Veteran Treatment Courts Show Promise

By TCCRI Staff. Feb. 24, 2020

As part of our testimony to the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs and Border Security for today's hearing, TCCRI made the following recommendations to the Committee regarding Veteran Treatment Courts (VTCs). Click here to read the full testimony.

Expand access to VTCs by ensuring that veteran-defendants can be referred to VTCs in counties which are adjacent to the counties in which they work or reside. If a veteran commits an offense and is eligible for admission to a VTC, current law provides that he is referred to a VTC in the county in which he or she is charged. However, veterans may be transferred to a VTC which is located in a county in which they work or reside. In addition, if the county in which veterans are charged lacks a VTC, they may be referred to a VTC which is located in a county in which they work or reside. House Bill 2481 (86R, Metcalf; SP: Creighton) would have allowed referrals to VTCs in counties which are adjacent to the county in which the veteran works or resides. This bill would be an important reform; as matters stand now, veterans who live in one of the many counties without a VTC can be deprived of the assistance a VTC program can provide. Notably, HB 2481 was vetoed by the Governor because of a late insertion into the bill relating to juvenile family drug courts; however, the Governor stated that he looked forward to expanding VTC access in the state if the provisions on drug courts are removed.

Require more information in VTC programs’ reports to state officials. Data on VTC programs is not centralized or standardized. As noted above, SB 1180 makes some strides in this area. However, to accurately assess the effects of VTC programs, the state must have more detailed data. Ideally, this data would list more information about the participants, including age, sex, medication usage, any substance abuse, history of mental illness, employment and housing status, and any prior parole, probation, or incarceration. As discussed above, veterans are subject to a unique combination of stressors, which makes them difficult to compare with non-veterans. This poses challenges in assessing the effectiveness of VTC programs. If veteran offenders who go through VTC programs have a recidivism rate equal to that of non-veteran offenders, but (for example) suffer from PTSD at much higher rates, it cannot be inferred that VTC programs did not reduce participants’ recidivism rate from what it otherwise would have been. In order to make “apples to apples” comparisons, identify important risk factors, and accurately assess VTC programs, the Legislature should require VTC programs to submit detailed data on their participants.

Define “recidivism” and update participants’ recidivism rate at least once every two years. The state needs a way to assess the recidivism rates of VTC program participants; this information is fundamental to evaluating the benefits of VTC programs. As the Office of Court Administration noted in a recent study, “recidivism” can be defined in different ways.[ii] For example, recidivism may be measured in terms of re-arrest, re-conviction, or re-incarceration and over different time periods. To compare results among various VTC programs in the state, it is essential that the programs are using the same definition of recidivism.

Ensure that counties have access to “resource kits” which provide guidance on setting up a VTC program. Many people who have worked in the context of VTCs have emphasized the importance of proper planning in setting one up. While the state has done an admirable job in granting counties flexibility in crafting their VTC programs, it may be helpful for counties to have a blueprint or guide to best practices in setting up a VTC.[iii] (See footnote 21 for two possible sources).

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