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New veterans court gets up and running next week

Kokomo Tribune - 4/19/2018

April 19--Howard County's new veterans court is up and running and set to begin offering offenders in a four-county region who served in the military the chance to get treatment or enter a diversion program rather than go to jail.

Superior Court II Judge Brant Parry, who will oversee the program, said Wednesday the new court has received provisional certification by the state and will hold its first session on Monday to begin vetting applications from veterans seeking to enter the program.

That program will allow qualifying offenders who are veterans to enter the court. If offenders complete the program, their criminal charges will be dismissed.

Which veterans are allowed into the court will be decided by a team including officials from the county's probation department, prosecutor's office, veterans service office and both local hospitals.

Also on the team is a veterans justice outreach coordinator for Veterans Affairs, which will conduct a clinical assessment of every offender accepted into the program to determine if they need medical or mental-health treatment. For those who qualify, the VA will provide that treatment as part of the program.

The county had started investigating the feasibility of installing a veterans court in Howard County after learning in September that state officials wanted a veterans court in every judicial district.

Howard County is part of Indiana Judicial District 8, which also includes Miami, Cass and Fulton counties -- none of which have a veterans court. Parry has agreed to host the court for all four counties in the district.

Now, jail staff will ask every person getting booked in at the jail if they served in the military. Those who did will be put in touch with the veterans justice outreach coordinator, who will initiate the process to determine if the offender would fit with the program.

Those who are accepted will be paired with a mentor -- who will also be a veteran -- to help offenders through the program and offer support and encouragement. Parry said the court has received applications from around 10 people so far who want to be mentors.

Anyone interested in serving as a mentor can contact the court at 765-456-2201, or Laura O'Donnell, a local attorney and Army reservist who is serving as the mentor-program coordinator, at 765-459-3941.

Parry said it will take around 18 months for most offenders to complete the program, which includes resources to treat any mental health issues or drug and alcohol abuse.

O'Donnell said what kind of treatment offenders are required to complete will be tailored to the individual needs of each veteran. But regardless of what kind of treatment each offender needs, the end goal is the same -- to reintegrate veterans back into the community.

"It's really exciting," O'Donnell said. "I think it will be a great resource for the veterans in our community."

Parry agreed. "Instead of just being a lifelong member of the criminal justice system, we want to offer veterans the services to help them and thank them for what they have done for our country."

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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(c)2018 the Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Ind.)

Visit the Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Ind.) at www.kokomotribune.com

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