|County holds first-ever Veterans Treatment Court|
Ordinarily it isn’t a big deal when someone enters into a plea agreement for three non-violent criminal offenses, but Timothy D. Howard’s situation was different.
He was the first person in Washington County to have his charges sent through the Veteran’s Treatment Court.
Howard, 39, who is a veteran, pled guilty to three counts -- possession of a handgun by someone with a prior felony (a level 5); possession of a syringe (a level 6) and OWI endangerment (a Class A misdemeanor).
In Return for his plea, Howard’s case moved to the South Central Indiana Veterans Treatment Court.
The court is a collaboration between the Harrison County Superior Court, the Washington County Circuit Court and Hoosier Hills PACT.
They established a Veteran’s Treatment Court to work with and to divert select members of the veteran population, charged with non-violent felony crimes away from jail and into appropriate rehabilitation programs.
Also working with the above-mentioned groups are the prosecutor offices in Harrison and Washington counties, as well as the public defender offices in both counties.
The Washington and Harrison county probation departments, Hoosier Hills PACT community corrections, LifeSpring Health Systems, Washington County Veterans Services, Harrison County Veterans Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs, are also involved.
Washington County Circuit Court Judge Larry Medlock said Justice David requested that all districts in Indiana consider starting a Veteran’s Treatment Court and he began collaborating with Harrison County Judge Joseph L. Claypool.
“Both Judge Claypool and I have great respect for veterans and their dedication and commitment and service to our country,” he said. “We like this opportunity to help restore their peace and dignity. Some of them have fallen on hard times and it’s nice to give them an opportunity.”
Washington County Prosecutor Dustin Houchin said the idea behind the Veterans Court is that those who serve, return from service carrying baggage that sometimes land them in jail.
“The court system on the state level has recognized that not only do we owe veterans a lot for their service, but also because of that service, they come out of the military with certain problems that sometimes tend to lead them to making their way to the criminal justice system,” Houchin said. “Part of the philosophy is, they served their country and some of the trauma from that can lead to poor decision making.
“They may require or deserve the benefit of some extra infrastructure to help them get them back on track and that’s what this is designed to do.”
In Howard’s case, there are stipulations he must adhere to in the plea agreement, including meeting with a mentor and the overseers of the program as well as going through a drug treatment program.
As for what the advantage will be for going through the Veteran’s Treatment Court, Medlock said that will depend on the agreement between the state and the defense.
“Sometimes there will be an advantage with sentencing and sometimes it will be an elimination of the charge,” Medlock said. “It’s unique to each case and honestly I won’t know what it is until it’s brought before me in each case.”
While this was the first case in the Veterans Treatment Court, Medlock says the number of cases will be dependent on the need.
“Honestly, it depends on the population,” he said. “As each veteran is identified in the criminal justice system, they will be approached and determined whether they qualify and if they qualify, we will ask them if they wish to participate.”
Houchin said he will sit down with the defense attorney on each individual case and lay out the structure in a written agreement.
“We will know in advance what will happen if a person is successful or if they are unsuccessful,” he said. “We lay all that out in advance on a case by case basis.”
Medlock said the program is voluntary and actually requires more work and dedication than going through the actual legal process and being on probation.
“We can’t make them participate, but we want to give them the opportunity to better themselves if they wish to do so,” Medlock said. “I hope veterans take advantage of it.”
Houchin said there is a system in place in Washington County that identifies veterans as they are booked in after an arrest. That information is then given to himself and the veteran’s service coordinator.
At that point they determine whether or not the veteran wants to participate and if he or she would be a good candidate for the program.