Veteran Treatment Court Clients’ Perceptions of Procedural Justice and Recidivism

AuthorCassandra A. Atkin-Plunk,Gaylene S. Armstrong,Nicky Dalbir
Published date01 June 2021
Date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(5) 501 –522
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403420920334
Veteran Treatment Court
Clients’ Perceptions of
Procedural Justice and
Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk1,
Gaylene S. Armstrong2, and Nicky Dalbir2
Studies surrounding the effectiveness of veterans’ treatment courts (VTCs) are
now emerging. Absent from this scholarship is an examination of the presence of
procedural justice within VTCs and the influence of procedural justice on future
criminal behavior of VTC clients. To begin this dialogue, this study surveys 41
clients enrolled in two VTCs in a Southern state. We explore client perceptions
of procedurally just treatment by their judge and assigned supervision officer. Using
an average follow-up time of 20 months, this study also examines the effects of
perceptions of procedural justice on recidivism of court clients. Results find VTC
clients perceive their judge and supervision officer treat them in a procedurally
just manner. Interestingly, perceptions of procedural justice during interactions did
not result in reduced recidivism among the current sample. Policy and program
implications along with recommendations for future research are provided.
procedural justice, veterans’ treatment courts, problem-solving courts, recidivism
Military veterans encounter unique challenges when returning from active duty. Studies
find these men and women may experience stress stemming from re-engagement with
1Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, USA
2University of Nebraska Omaha, USA
Corresponding Author:
Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida Atlantic University,
777 Glades Road, 222 Social Science Building, Boca Raton, FL 33431, USA.
920334CJPXXX10.1177/0887403420920334Criminal Justice Policy ReviewAtkin-Plunk et al.
502 Criminal Justice Policy Review 32(5)
civilian life and from the lingering, deleterious effects of combat experiences
(Montgomery & Olson, 2018). Certain military experiences, particularly engaging in
combat and duty-related injuries, can traumatize individuals both physically and
mentally resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptomology, mental
illness, substance use disorders, and maladaptation (Blodgett et al., 2015; Department
of Veterans Affairs, 2012; Finlay et al., 2015; May et al., 2017; Maynard et al., 2017).
An ongoing confluence of these negative consequences and worsening symptoms can
result in these veterans making poor decisions that lead to arrest and involvement in the
criminal justice system. Because of their prior combat and related military experiences,
these veterans present complex criminogenic and treatment needs, and may have dis-
tinct interactions in the criminal justice system.
A concern that society is failing to support returning veterans adequately has
resulted in the development of resources specific to veterans involved in the justice
system (henceforth justice-involved veterans; Baldwin, 2015; Russell, 2009). Building
on the drug court model in recognizing a similar approach may be effective for justice-
involved veterans, veterans’ treatment courts (VTCs) were established (Russell, 2009;
Smith, 2012). Although substantial research concludes participation and completion of
treatment through a drug court significantly reduces recidivism (Gottfredson et al.,
2003; Mitchell et al., 2012; Wilson et al., 2006), the effectiveness of VTCs is less clear
(Baldwin & Brooke, 2019; Hartley & Baldwin, 2019; Smith, 2012). Components of
drug courts credited as contributing to positive behavioral change include 10 key com-
ponents summarized by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (Bureau
of Justice Assistance, 2004). Included within these key components are a coordinated
strategy that addresses identification and inclusion of individuals into a stage-progres-
sion program to combat substance use, which involves structure and mandatory inten-
sive treatment. Significant research has been conducted in these areas of substance use
issues. A key component of specialized courts less often discussed is the impact of
using a non-adversarial, therapeutic approach to guide behavioral change (Ahlin &
Douds, 2019; Kaiser & Holtfreter, 2016). Arguably, such an approach employs a pro-
cedural justice framework during interactions with court participants (Bureau of
Justice Assistance, 2004).
Simply stated, procedural justice focuses on the fairness of the process that indi-
viduals encountering legal authorities experience, including quality of treatment and
quality of decision making (Sunshine & Tyler, 2003; Thibaut & Walker, 1975; Tyler,
2006; Tyler & Folger, 1980). Research in problem-solving courts (e.g., drug, mental
health, and domestic violence courts) suggests a correlation between perceptions of
procedural justice and increased satisfaction with the court, increased program com-
pliance, reduced drug use, and reduced criminal behavior (Canada & Watson, 2013;
Gottfredson et al., 2007; Gover et al., 2007; Henry, 2011; McIvor, 2009; Poythress
et al., 2002; Wales et al., 2010). Researchers, however, have not yet examined these
relationships in the context of VTCs.
To fill this knowledge gap, this study examines perceptions of procedural justice
among VTC participants and the relationship of these perceptions with recidivism.
Specifically, we utilize data from two VTCs in a Southern state and measure client

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