In January 2017, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida opened Veterans Treatment Court to offer non-violent felony veteran offenders the opportunity to avoid prosecution and improve their quality of life. Veterans Treatment Court is designed to offer treatment in lieu of incarceration for veterans whose substance use disorders and/or mental illness appear to have contributed significantly to their arrest. The program seeks to divert eligible veteran participants from the traditional criminal justice system and offer them support and rehabilitation through comprehensive substance abuse and/or mental health treatment, education, vocational programs, and community resource referrals for housing, childcare, and transportation, all while being judicially monitored for a minimum of 14 months.
Veterans Treatment Court is a pre-adjudicatory, pre-trial, voluntary program. Participants are placed in one of two tracks based on their risk and need level. The program includes five distinct phases of treatment that will be monitored by the Court. These phases are tied into the participant’s track. There is a recognized length of time for each phase, as well as program requirements that must be met in order for participants to advance to the next phase. In general, for successful phase advancement, each participant must remain abstinent from the use of drugs and alcohol for a certain number of consecutive days, attend all treatment sessions, remain in compliance with treatment and case plans, and attend all court sessions. Participants will be regularly and randomly tested throughout the entire program.
After successfully completing the five phases of treatment and when monitoring or case management services are no longer needed, the Veterans Treatment Court team will recommend that the judge “graduate” participants and release them from court supervision. Successful completion from the program may result in a reduction or dismissal of the pending charges or the imposition of a more favorable sentence, depending on the terms of the participant’s individual contract. Upon graduation, first-time offenders will have their case nolle prossed (no prosecution) and may qualify to have their arrest record sealed or expunged, which is a significant benefit for future employment and career opportunities. For other offenders, their case may result in adjudication withheld. Most importantly, participants who have a sincere desire to maintain their recovery efforts are offered the opportunity to avoid further problems with the law and free themselves of problems that are caused by their substance use disorders and/or mental illness.
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