Veteran’s Court Opens in Tarrant County

by Terry Barlow

(Thanks to Judge Brent Carr, Presiding Judge, for the information and the brochure upon which this article is based.)

The Veteran’s Court Program is a diversion program for Justice Involved Veterans (JIVs) who are currently facing prosecution for one or more criminal cases.  The program offers offenders a treatment option that is judicially supervised.  It is designated to divert JIVs out of the traditional criminal justice process and into appropriate rehabilitative alternatives.  Once the JIV has been screened, assessed, and approved for participation in the program, the JIV will promptly begin a treatment regimen that is specific to the JIVs needs.

The stated mission of the program is to successfully habilitate JIVs by diverting them from the traditional criminal justice system and by providing them with the tools they need to lead a productive and law-abiding lifestyle, while concurrently improving mental health recovery and enabling successful re-entry into the community.

The program’s goals are to find JIVs, assess their needs, offer assistance, manage their care, and help provide them with successful treatment options ultimately leading to community reintegration, and resolution of their criminal issues.

In order to be considered for the program, the following criteria must be met:

  • Veteran or current member of the United States armed forces, including a member of the reserves, National Guard, or state guard
  • Clinical diagnosis of a brain injury, mental illness, or mental disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, that resulted from the JIVs military service in a combat zone or other similar hazardous duty area; and materially affected the JIVs criminal conduct at issue in the case
  • Current case must be pending in Tarrant County

All cases are reviewed by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office for final approval.  Referrals are accepted from a variety of sources, including law enforcement, jail staff, judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, mental health professionals, and family or friends.  Once a referral is received, the District Attorney’s Office reviews it to ensure the minimum criteria are met.  Following DA review, the JIVs are given a date and time to complete screening forms. The JIVs are then scheduled for a face-to-face interview with the Program Manager. Following the interview a formal comprehensive assessment is completed by the Program Manager and submitted to the DA’s Office for final approval/denial. Finally, the defendant’s attorney and court of origin are notified of status after completion of the screening process and at final disposition.

The program is structured in such a way that participants develop an individualized treatment plan. A phase system is utilized to measure participant progress. Services for education, counseling, and other assistance are provided by outside agencies. Participants are referred to these agencies throughout the program as needed. A case manager monitors each participant placed in the program.  The case manager will work closely with the program manager and service providers.  All participants are required to attend bi-monthly compliance hearings.  During the hearing, the progress of each participant is reviewed in open court.  Both incentives and sanctions are used as methods of motivation.

The Veteran’s Court Program is a 6-to-24 month program.  The period directly relates to a participant’s need and compliance. Upon successful completion of the program, the cases are dismissed.  In the event the agreement is terminated, the cases are remanded to the court of origin for continued prosecution.  The participants are subject to Program Fee of up to $500.  JIVs may be responsible for costs of treatment services including but not limited to Drug Urinalysis, Evaluations, Inpatient/Outpatient Treatment, Counseling, etc.

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