Criminal justice researchers to conduct nationwide evaluation of Veterans Treatment Courts

Criminal justice researchers to conduct nationwide evaluation of Veterans Treatment Courts

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(Dec. 3, 2015) -- Richard Hartley, an associate professor and chair with The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Department of Criminal Justice is to receive $186,157 from a $761K grant awarded to Missouri State University, under the direction of co-investigator Julie Baldwin.  The grant is awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to conduct the first multi-site evaluation of Veterans Treatment Courts.

Each year, thousands of veterans wind up in the criminal justice system for a variety of reasons. But Veterans Treatment Courts, or VTCs, are designed to help divert eligible military veteran offenders who may grapple with mental health issues, substance abuse or homelessness from the traditional criminal justice system into appropriate treatment services. These services can include counseling and therapy, rehabilitation, and housing.

“Generally, Veterans Treatment Courts are meant to address the underlying causes of veterans’ offenses, rather than simply punish the offenders,” Hartley said. “In a way, they can be a point of access to treatment and rehabilitation services for veteran offenders who may be suffering from or dealing with any number of issues.”

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 27 percent of all veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also deal with substance abuse issues. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, it is estimated that there are more than 700,000 veterans under some form of criminal justice supervision, and since 2004, roughly 80 percent of veterans who are arrested have issues with substance abuse.

The first VTC was established in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008 by the Buffalo Drug and Mental Health Courts to help stem the rising tide of justice involved veterans, and in less than 10 years, the concept has been adopted by hundreds of court systems across the country. Nearly all-50 states now have a VTC program in place to serve their veteran population, but, according to Hartley, the relative newness of these courts means that there’s a lack of research on their long-term impacts.

Over the next three years, Hartley and Baldwin will evaluate outcomes from the VTC programs. These outcomes include the effects of VTCs on substance abuse and addiction, mental health and PTSD and whether, overall, there has been a reduction of criminal activity among the VTCs’ veteran population.  

The researchers will use multiple methods and evaluation tools in order to most accurately reflect the reality of the VTCs’ effects. At the end of the evaluation period, the researchers will submit research and policy recommendations to the NIJ.

“Since this will be the first evaluation of Veterans Treatment Courts’ effects across several states, we hope our research will serve to inform future policy, programs and further research on these and other specialized courts,” Hartley said.

Hartley is a criminal justice researcher specializing in disparities in sentencing practices, and decision-making in the administration of justice.


This project was supported by NIJ Award No. 15203, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

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