Ramsey County launches Veterans Court Track

Ramsey County has launched a Veterans Court Track program to help veterans charged with crimes who may be struggling with service-related issues.

What is it?

VCT is a voluntary court program for eligible veterans who have been charged with a crime-misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony-in Ramsey County.

The program assists and supports veterans by creating a coordinated response through collaboration with the Veterans’ Administration, community-based services, and the criminal justice system.

“I am encouraged by the support and collaboration of our many partners to establish a robust justice initiative to help our veterans who have contact with our criminal justice system in Ramsey County. By doing this, we will enhance public safety and improve justice outcomes for those who have served our country but experience challenges returning to their lives back home,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi in a statement. “Too often, PTSD and depression lead to drug and alcohol abuse as well as other bad choices that lead to arrest and time in the criminal justice system.”

Why veterans?

Although most veterans who return from active duty do so successfully, there are those who do struggle to reengage fully in civilian life.

Veterans suffer from high rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and disabling physical and mental injuries. These conditions may impede their ability to secure jobs, housing and health care. With little or no financial stability, military families face a foreclosure rate four times the national average. Veterans make up 20 percent of the homeless population, with male veterans making up one-third of the male homeless population. Faced with these stressors, veterans often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. These collateral consequences from their service to their country can contribute to veterans finding their way into the criminal justice system.

“This is a win-win: we can save money by helping veterans to not engage in the revolving door of criminal activity as well as giving them supervision and resources to get their lives back on track,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt in a statement.

What happens?

Among the services provided to program participants will be a veteran mentor. The mentors will act as support people and advocates to help veterans navigate the court system, connect with treatment and services, and readjust to civilian life.

The mentor can help start acoordinated response through county collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), community-based services, and the criminal justice system.

The Veterans Court Track goals:
- to promote public safety;
- to reduce criminal recidivism;
- to provide treatment and supervision to ensure sobriety and access to mental health care;
- to improve access to VA benefits and medical care;
- to improve access to community resources to ensure adequate housing, employment, education, and life stability;
- to assist or refer veterans with other collateral legal issues (criminal or civil) that may impede their path to emotional and financial stability;
- to increase compliance with treatment and other court ordered conditions; and
- to improve family relations and promote healthy, social support connections.

Who’s eligible?

Offenders eligible for the program include those charged with non-violent misdemeanors and gross misdemeanor offenses or felony offenses. Domestic violence related cases will only be accepted for the court track after being considered by the St. Paul City Attorney’s Office on a case-by-case basis.

Otherwise, to be eligible, an offeder must have served in the U.S. Armed Forces; have a treatable behavioral, mental, or chemical health problem; be 18 or older and both live in Ramsey County and have committed the offense there.

Depending on the level of the offense and the participant’s criminal history, the participant will be admitted to the program through one of the following dispositional paths

1: pre-charge or diversion, in which the offender is placed on diversion. There is no finding of guilt and no conviction unless the participant fails to complete the program.

2: deferred prosecution, in which the offender makes an admission of guilt, but the plea is not formally accepted and upon successful completion of the VCT program the charges will be dismissed. If the participant is unwilling or unable to complete the program, the plea may be accepted and a sentence will follow.

3: Post-adjudication, in which the offender enters a guilty plea to the charged (or an amended) offense. The participant is sentenced and VCT is a condition of probation.

4: Probation violation, for probationers facing a revocation hearing with potential execution of jail or prison sentence due to continued substance abuse of lack of cooperation with the conditions of probation. The participant enters the program at the recommendation of the probation officer and with the approval of the sentencing judge and the VCT Team.

The minimum program length for misdemeanors is nine months and the minimum length for gross misdemeanors and felonies is one year.

Where do resources come from?

Participants who are eligible for VA Health Care will be connected to treatment to address mental health (including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and sexual trauma), chemical dependency, or both.

Participants who are ineligible for VA Health Care, or who choose not to use their VA benefits, may receive their treatment through community-based treatment  organizations.

All identified veterans, regardless of VA eligibility or whether they are accepted into VCT, will be referred to community veteran supportive services to address needs such as housing, employment, education, child care, civil legal issues or medical or dental care.

To graduate, the participant must have successfully completed all of the program requirements, including an aftercare plan; a minimum period of continued sobriety; a high school diploma or GED; employment or enrollment in school; participation in a recovery support group; live in a sober, stable residence; and pay all program fees and restitution, or have a judgment entered.

Participants may be terminated from the program for failure to comply with program requirements after all attempts have been made to improve the attendance and motivation without success.

Termination may also occur if the participant commits a drug sales or violent offense while in the program; is found to be in possession of a weapon; or is wanted on a warrantfor more than 60 days.

All participants will be assigned a volunteer veteran mentor. The role of the volunteer veteran mentor is to act as a coach, a guide, a role model, and advocate for the participants he or she will work with. The mentor will encourage, guide, and support the participant as s/he progresses through the Veterans Court Track program.

For more information on the program or to volunteer as a mentor, go to http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/attorney/rc-vets or call  the Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist at 612-313-3240 or the Ramsey County Veterans Justice Initiative: 651-266-VETS (8387) or www.RC-VETS.org.

Other resources: the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans at www.mac-v.org; a crisis hotline at 1-800-273.TALK (8255) and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon at www.BTYR.org.


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