Study: Hennepin County Veterans Court is effective, should continue

  • Updated: April 15, 2013 - 8:45 PM

Reoffense rates dropped for vets in program geared to help those with addiction and mental health problems.

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Judge Richard Hopper presides over hearings in a pilot project focused on veterans. The court is in response to the realization that veterans may benefit from specific interventions and plans.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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A specialized court for veterans struggling with addiction and mental illness in Hennepin County is largely considered a success in its first two years and should continue, according to a study.

Of the 131 defendants accepted into the county’s Veterans Court from 2010 to 2012, 83 percent committed fewer offenses after six months in the program as compared with the six months before entering, the district’s Research Division found.

“This is a particularly troubled population when they come through the door,” Hennepin County Court Administrator Mark Thompson said. “My guess is 75 percent would reoffend within a year, so 83 percent not reoffending is an amazing statistic.”

It’s one of many that proves the program is effective and saves taxpayers money, Thompson said. The cost for a veteran in treatment or a mental health setting is $2,000 to 3,000 per day. The cost is about $25 per day for the same person to be on probation with Veterans Court — a more successful program.

The numbers could result in an expansion for Veterans Court, although that likely won’t happen fast, Thompson said. The project launched in July 2010 is still technically in the pilot phase. Its $315,000 budget over three years includes a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The goal, Thompson said, would be to make it a regular part of Hennepin County’s budget. Similar programs have launched in Washington and Anoka counties.

The court, specifically designed to serve veteran defendants through a hybrid of mental health court and drug court models, primarily handles offenses such as drunken driving and domestic assault. Others include terroristic threats, drug possession or property crimes. In its first two years, 41 participants graduated, eight were terminated for noncompliance and seven voluntarily withdrew and returned to Criminal Court. Participants must complete chemical dependency treatment and/or domestic abuse programming and work with the VA Medical Center in order to graduate.

The study, released last week, found that nearly all of the participants are men, two-thirds are white and nearly half have been deployed overseas at least once, most commonly to Iraq. Graduates spend an average of 14 months in Veterans Court and make an average of nine appearances. About three-fourths of graduates have no new offenses at six, 12 and 18 months after entering the program. At 24 months, 56 percent still have not reoffended.

ABBY SIMONS

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