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Bozeman seeking money to start veterans treatment court

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle - 2/28/2017

Bozeman Municipal Court is seeking grant money to create a new treatment court as an alternative to jail for veterans with chemical dependency and mental health issues.

On Monday, city commissioners voted to apply for a $400,000 grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance that would fund start-up costs for a new Bozeman Veterans Treatment Court for three years.

The court would “assist our veterans in their efforts to maintain or regain their dignity, honor and pride by providing an evidenced-based program to combat the issues that so many of our veterans are struggling to overcome,” according to the grant application.

Veterans treatment court would be a post-conviction program for veterans who commit misdemeanor or felony crimes and have an identifiable substance abuse or mental health need.

The court is proposed to be part of Bozeman Municipal Court and overseen by Judge Colleen Herrington, who is a veteran and is currently a JAG Officer with the Montana Army National Guard.

The program would be administered by a team that includes Herrington, a court coordinator, a deputy city attorney and defense counsel, a Veteran Justice Outreach representative, mental health professionals and case managers.

The proposal calls for the Bozeman Veterans Treatment Court to provide a “full continuum of care” for the veteran offenders, including out-patient physical and mental health care, supported housing, rehabilitation classes, vocational assistance, group therapy and treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Participants will have individual treatment plans that will be reviewed and adjusted by the team.

“Mental health, brain trauma and substance abuse issues are a great concern for Montana military members in this community and the surrounding communities. The use of incarceration should not be the only answer for veterans with these issues,” Herrington wrote.

Veterans would be referred to the program from a number of sources ranging from a sentencing judge, defense counsel, prosecutor, counselors, law enforcement, detention staff and more.

To be eligible, participants will have to have sentences as part of their criminal convictions that are long enough for at least 18 months of supervision.

Organizers anticipate that the program, which would be 18 to 24 months depending on the defendant, would help 40 veterans annually, for a total of 120 over the lifespan of the grant.

The veterans treatment court would also accept referrals of veterans from Gallatin County Justice and District courts as well as surrounding counties including Madison, Jefferson, Broadwater, Park and Sweet Grass counties.

The grant application notes that Montana has the second largest populations of veterans per capita in the country, with the largest proportion living the southwest part of the state.

Seven to 9 percent of all offenders in the state are veterans, the Montana Department of Corrections estimates.

But substance-addicted veteran offenders in Montana often have little access to providers or psychiatric beds and there is an average of a six-month wait for an in-patient treatment program. And the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs programs are even more limited and often have longer wait times.

“Due to the lack of these required services, law enforcement and the courts have very few options other than to use prison beds for non-violent, mentally ill, addicted offenders, which in turn disrupts mental health treatment and VA benefits,” the application said.

Treatment courts have been proven to reduce recidivism, increase public safety and result in successful rehabilitation and integration of offenders, the applications notes.

If awarded the grant, the city would require a 25 percent match. And the program would also receive about 10 percent of its funding from fees from its participants.

At the end of the grant, the Bozeman Veterans Treatment Court team hopes to get funding from the city and county, as well as state agencies, nonprofits and private donations.

 
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