South St. Louis County Veterans Court Earns Final Approval
Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2018
St. Louis County District Court in Duluth will soon launch the state’s newest veterans treatment court, a special program designed to assist military veterans in the criminal justice system who are struggling with chemical or mental health issues.
St. Louis County District Court has been holding a special court calendar for veterans since early 2014, based on a recommendation from the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. The effort proved successful, as court and county officials began partnering with community organizations to provide greater support to veterans in the court system. In 2016, court and county officials began taking steps to formalize this effort into a recognized veterans treatment court program, including meeting national standards and best practices, and ensuring the judges and staff involved in the program have received the necessary training.
That hard work paid off last week, when the Minnesota Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the Minnesota Judicial Branch, gave formal approval to officially launch the South St. Louis County Veterans Treatment Court.
The program will provide veterans in the criminal justice system with the opportunity to change their life circumstances, become alcohol and drug free, and get treatment for mental health issues. This is accomplished through comprehensive assessment and treatment, intensive supervision, random drug and breath testing, regular court appearances, and the use of immediate sanctions and incentives. The program will work in partnership with St. Louis County, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and other organizations that support veterans and veterans’ families. In addition, volunteer veteran mentors will help guide and support participants through the program and their recovery.
The goal of the program will be to ensure veterans receive the help and assistance they are owed, receive treatment for their chemical and mental health issues, and leave the program sober, law-abiding, and in a stable living situation. The program will accept veterans charged with misdemeanors and felonies where the defendant is screened as a high-risk to reoffend and in high-need of treatment or services. The program is divided into five phases. Movement through phases is based on accomplishment of goals and requirements. Advancement through the phases results in reduced responsibilities and, ultimately, graduation from the program.
An estimated 17,000 veterans reside in St. Louis County, including 10,000 veterans in south St. Louis County.
“Our nation, our state, and our community owe a great debt to the veterans who have served our country,” said Sixth Judicial District Judge Dale O. Harris, who will preside over the South St. Louis County Veterans Treatment Court and is a retired Navy JAG Captain. “Veterans treatment courts are proven tools that ensure our veterans receive the help they need when struggling with addiction or mental illness, while holding them accountable for their actions and their recovery. I’m proud that our community has come together to launch this important program that demonstrates our commitment to our military veterans.”
Veterans courts and other treatment court programs have shown their effectiveness at reducing recidivism and justice system costs, while improving outcomes for offenders who enter the programs. Minnesota has conducted multiple evaluations
of the effectiveness of these programs, and has consistently found that treatment courts:
- Reduce recidivism among program participants;
- Provide long-term cost savings in the criminal justice system; and
- Result in better outcomes for offenders struggling with addiction, including higher rates of employment, stable housing, and educational attainment.
Currently, St. Louis County District Court in Duluth is operating their special veterans court calendar utilizing a small contribution from the Sixth Judicial District, and is sharing a coordinator with the South St. Louis County Drug Court and the Carlton County Drug Court. Court and county officials will soon apply for a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the U.S. Department of Justice that would help fund dedicated staff for the program, and now that the program has been approved by the Judicial Council, it will be eligible for ongoing state funding through the state court system.
Learn more about Minnesota’s veterans courts and other treatment court programs