Waging War on Recidivism Among Justice-Involved Veterans: An Impact Evaluation of a Large Urban Veterans Treatment Court

AuthorRichard D. Hartley,Julie Marie Baldwin
Published date01 February 2019
Date01 February 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2019, Vol. 30(1) 52 –78
© The Author(s) 2016
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403416650490
Waging War on Recidivism
Among Justice-Involved
Veterans: An Impact
Evaluation of a Large Urban
Veterans Treatment Court
Richard D. Hartley1 and Julie Marie Baldwin2
Problem solving courts have increasingly been adopted by jurisdictions around
the country as an alternative to traditional criminal court models of justice.
Veterans treatment courts (VTCs) are a type of problem-solving court being
established all over the country in response to an increased number of justice-
involved veterans with the return of military personnel from the Wars in
the Middle East. Despite their rapid expansion, there is a dearth of research
evaluating the impact of VTCs on recidivism. The current study conducted an
impact evaluation regarding recidivism among participants of a large urban VTC
program. Findings from descriptive and multivariate analysis reveal positive results
for VTC participants, especially graduates, in comparison with the control group.
Implications are discussed in context of three areas: (a) current criminal justice
policy and practice implications for VTCs, (b) findings from research on other
more established problem-solving courts (i.e., drug courts), and (c) research–
practitioner partnerships.
specialty courts, problem-solving courts, justice-involved veterans, veterans treatment
courts, recidivism
1University of Texas at San Antonio, TX, USA
2Missouri State University, Springfield, MO, USA
Corresponding Author:
Richard D. Hartley, University of Texas at San Antonio, 501 W Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., San Antonio,
TX 782079, USA.
Email: richard.hartley@utsa.edu
650490CJPXXX10.1177/0887403416650490Criminal Justice Policy ReviewHartley and Baldwin
Hartley and Baldwin 53
Veterans treatment courts (VTCs) are one of the newest waves of specialty courts to
hit the landscape of the American Criminal Justice System. VTCs are an amalgama-
tion of drug courts and mental health courts (Pratt, 2010) and operate in a similar
fashion to other specialized courts. The VTC mission is to divert eligible offenders
from the traditional criminal court system to non-traditional paths to justice that man-
date treatment and services (e.g., mental health and substance abuse treatment,
employment and housing services), thereby addressing the underlying causes of crime
in an effort to eliminate or reduce recidivism and repeat contact with the system. VTCs
strive to connect veterans—or in some cases, currently enlisted military personnel—
who are in contact with the criminal justice system to the treatments/services they
need but to which they may not have ease of access or want to readily accept (Baldwin,
2013b, 2016; Russell, 2009).
VTC programs emerged from the colliding wakes of the returning population of
veterans, the increased awareness of challenges facing these individuals, and the con-
tinuation of the specialized court movement (Baldwin, 2013b, 2016).1 As Operation
Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) have
officially terminated, the number of veterans and current military personnel returning
home have increased through Operation New Dawn (OND) in Iraq and Operation
Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS) in Afghanistan (Baldwin, 2013b, 2015; White, Mulvey,
Fox, & Choate, 2012). In addition, research indicates a higher prevalence of specific
issues (e.g., mental health, reintegration, substance abuse)2 related to military service/
training that (a) may put veterans at a higher risk for incarceration than the general
population (e.g., Greenberg & Rosenheck, 2009; Knudsen & Wingenfeld, 2016; Saxon
et al., 2001) and (b) have been shown to be related to illegal, violent, and/or hostile
behavior (Elbogen et al., 2012; Greenberg & Rosenheck, 2009).3
In response, many states have passed legislation or administrative orders creating
VTCs and many jurisdictions have implemented these specific treatment court pro-
grams to handle cases involving veterans. The result is that VTCs are currently the
fastest growing specialty court across the country, rapidly expanding from approxi-
mately one in 2004 to more than 260 in 2016 and functioning at the municipal, state,
and federal levels with funding from all levels of government and public and private
donations (Baldwin, 2013a, 2013b, 2016).4 The naming of mentor courts and organi-
zation of conferences devoted to VTCs is evidence of their popularity, which also
simultaneously furthers their expansion (Baldwin, 2016).
This exponential growth is troubling from a scientific vantage point because the
full breadth of problems facing veterans from this most recent era is unknown.
Historical statistics reveal veteran requests for disability from previous wars peaked
more than 30 years after their service ended, which makes the interpretation of the
current numbers alarming. History foretells a probable increase in the number of jus-
tice-involved veterans in future years that could have tremendous impacts on the
already over-burdened U.S. correctional facilities. As of 2007, veterans represented,
approximately, 10% of the incarcerated population, some 200,000 inmates (Elbogen

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