Take a Load off Fanny: Peer Mentors in Veterans Treatment Courts

Published date01 October 2020
Date01 October 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2020, Vol. 31(8) 1165 –1192
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403419880289
Take a Load off Fanny:
Peer Mentors in Veterans
Treatment Courts
Caroline I. Jalain1 and Elizabeth L. Grossi1
This article explores the role of mentors in three veterans treatment courts (VTCs)
in two Midwestern states. VTCs have existed for more than 10 years and continue
to flourish across local, state, and federal jurisdictions. Yet, little is known about the
factors related to program compliance, completion, and reductions in recidivism.
Many VTCs consider peer mentors as a key link between the court workgroup,
program participants, and ultimately program outcomes. Thus, this study uses
individual and focus-group data from interviews with veteran mentors and VTC team
members along with field observations in various VTC settings to better understand
the role of peer mentors. The research begins with an overview of the recruitment,
selection, training, and retention of mentors. Secondly, the study examines the
impact of these mentor programs and concludes with recommendations for further
evaluation of the role of mentors and other key stakeholders regarding program
compliance, completion, and recidivism reduction.
veterans treatment court, peer mentors, justice-involved veterans
Influenced by drug courts, mental health courts, and juvenile courts, veterans treat-
ment courts (VTCs) use a nonadversarial workgroup approach to better meet the reha-
bilitative and reintegrative needs of justice-involved veterans (JIVs; Cartwright, 2011;
Cavanaugh, 2010). VTCs are specialty courts that oversee cases of military veterans
1University of Louisville, KY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Caroline I. Jalain, University of Louisville, 2301 South Third Street, Louisville, KY 40292, USA.
Email: caroline.jalain@louisville.edu
880289CJPXXX10.1177/0887403419880289Criminal Justice Policy ReviewJalain and Grossi
1166 Criminal Justice Policy Review 31(8)
and active duty service members who experience difficult life situations such as unem-
ployment, substance use disorders mental health disorders, homelessness, inequality,
poverty, and strained personal relationships (Ahlin & Douds, 2016; Baldwin, 2017;
Bennett, Morris, Sexton, Bonar, & Chermack, 2018; Blodgett et al., 2015; Frederick,
2014; Russell, 2009). VTCs are geared toward providing court-supervised treatment
to veterans instead of incarceration and typically offer offenders a reduction or dis-
missal of charges upon program completion (Ahlin & Douds, 2016; Edelman, Berger,
& Crawford, 2016; Huskey, 2015; Peters & Belenko, 2011).
Early VTCs in Buffalo, Rochester, Houston, Chicago, Colorado Springs, and Santa
Ana were established with the belief that veterans were particularly “worthy” family
and community members deserving special considerations by the courts. VTC
Advocates, like the National Institute of Corrections, believe that VTCs provide a
“second chance for vets who have lost their way” (Edelman et al., 2016; Shannon
et al., 2017, p. 57) with minimal financial and safety risks to the community. For oth-
ers, VTCs seem like the “right thing to do” for those who sacrificed so much for our
country (Russell as cited in Edelman et al., 2016, p. 15). Indeed, corporations, govern-
ment agencies, professional sports, and the general populace seem to have placed the
contemporary veteran in a distinct, perhaps revered, status (Devoy, 2017). This phe-
nomenon extends from adopting veteran’s apparel (e.g., camouflage clothing and uni-
forms, paracord bracelets, identification tags), vernacular (e.g., “I’ve got your six”
“leave no one behind,” “embrace the suck”), and “warrior” persona to creating vet-
eran-centric policies and programs.
Practitioners, researchers, and policymakers became more intrigued by the rela-
tionship between veterans and crime after World War II. Violent crime increased in
New York City and some noted the correlation between increased crime with the vol-
ume of returning combat veterans (Willbach, 1948). For the past several decades,
many studies have focused on the relationship between war trauma experienced by
returning veterans and criminal conduct (Hakeem, 1946; Lunden, 1952; Moore &
Kennedy, 2011). The seminal study of World War II soldiers combat experiences by
Stouffer et al. (1949) indicates that the varied sources of stress among veterans (e.g.,
sexual deprivations, lack of privacy, sleep deprivation, isolation, physical discomfort,
boredom, sensory overload, injury or loss of comrades, fatigue, frustration, uncer-
tainty, and lack of involvement or control in family matters) are important factors that
likely shape the behavior of returning veterans. Furthermore, these experiences may
contribute to antisocial, deviant, and/or criminal conduct among those transitioning
from the battlefields to a more peaceful environment.
The classic deprivations described so eloquently by Sykes (1958) and the associated
“pains” (p. 63) of total institutions like prisons, mental hospitals, and military environ-
ment emerged as key factors in unraveling the complexities of the criminality among
World War II and Vietnam War veterans (Pentland & Rothman, 1982; Tracy, Friel,
Kerper, & Killinger, 1971; Wright, Carter, & Cullen, 2005). However, many studies do
not find a direct relationship between military combat and veterans’ criminal propen-
sity. Instead, researchers often find associations between combat trauma with increased
likelihood of experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury

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