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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ind. Courts - "Veterans Treatment Court great for LaPorte County"

Yesterday the ILB reported plans for a veterans court in Marion County. Here is a letter, published in the Michigan City News-Dispatch, from Kurt R. Earnst is a LaPorte-based attorney, on that county's newest court:

Last year I was asked to serve as the public defender's representative on the La Porte County Veterans Treatment Court Team. Since that time, the team led by Judge Jennifer Koethe has developed a plan and received provisional certification for the La Porte County Veterans Treatment Court. The court began receiving participants on April 29 and has now passed its 90-day mark.

As a criminal defense attorney who has been practicing in La Porte County for 18 years, it is fair to say that this court is unlike any other court that I have ever participated in. Before each court session, the Treatment Court Team (consisting of myself, the prosecutor, a Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist from the VA, the County Veterans Service Officer, treatment professionals, law enforcement officers and a case manager) meets and evaluates potential candidates for the program and discusses the progress of existing candidates in the program. Each court session begins with the Pledge of Allegiance and volunteer veterans mentors are scattered throughout the audience, ready to assist fellow veterans. Judge Koethe calls each participant and the participant's assigned mentors up to the podium to discuss the participant's progress in the program.

The program is designed to help veterans in the criminal justice system with issues related to their military service. Those issues usually involve alcohol abuse, substance abuse or anger issues related to post-traumatic stress disorder. The program uses intensive judicial monitoring and links eligible veterans with individually-tailored programs and services. Each participant is assigned one or more volunteer veteran mentors. These mentors are pillars in the community and continue to serve their fellow veterans by providing friendship, encouragement and support. * * *

According to the La Porte County Sheriff's Department, it costs taxpayers $28 per day to house a person in the La Porte County Jail. The cost is approximately $54 per day if the Department of Corrections houses the same person. As a result, this program can save taxpayers a range from $10,000 to $19,710 per participant, per year. Currently the program has six participants, which means it is on track to save the county between $60,000 and $118,260 for these participants alone. The program is set up to assist 20 participants at a time. At maximum capacity we could see a taxpayer savings per year between $200,000 and $394,200.

Additionally, the only funding for the program came as a result of a grant obtained by Judge Koethe from the Indiana Supreme Court for $40,000 for training, equipment and other start-up costs involved in the certification process. All mentors serve on a volunteer basis after receiving training.

We have only just begun to identify our veterans in the criminal justice system with many returning from multiple tours in Iraq an Afghanistan with the scars of war. At a time when 22 veterans per day are committing suicide and the honorable men and women who have served their country to protect our freedom are ending up in the criminal justice system, it is truly remarkable that we have a program in our county that can save our veterans and the taxpayers so much. I feel truly honored to be a part of this program.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 21, 2014 09:56 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts