Sending Support for Our Soldiers

 “For the veteran, thank you for bravely doing what you’re called to do so we can safely do what we’re free to do.” – Unknown

VeteransMonthThis month as we celebrate our veterans, we take a moment as a nation to thank the soldiers for their service of ensuring our freedom and safety. We would also like to acknowledge and thank those who continue to support our veterans once they return home.

Our first shout out goes to the Veterans Affairs (VA). Veterans emerging back into civilian life may face several challenges, such as PTSD and substance misuse. VA’s National Center for PTSD created a series of short videos for patients and providers to help recognize the symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).  PTSD threatens our vets with the risk of developing alcohol and other substance dependence. The short videos help highlight treatment options, including cognitive processing therapy and medicated assisted treatment.  In addition, recognizing the nation’s opioid crisis and use of opioids for veterans in managing pain, the VA created an Opioid Safety Initiative (OSI) which provides guidelines to physicians on opioid therapy for chronic pain. The OSI toolkit includes a host of resources for both clinicians and patients on topics such as responsible use of opioids for chronic pain, effective treatment for PTSD, cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic pain, etc.

Our second shout out goes to the Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs). For veterans who come into contact with the justice system, one of the ways that our society stands by them is through VTCs. These courts are designed to serve veterans facing substance use and mental health disorders and have come in contact with the justice system through structure, treatment, and mentoring. VTCs are modeled after drug courts, which follow the National Association of Drug Court Professional Drug Court’s Ten Key Components with the added caveat of (1) peer to peer mentorship with another military service member and (2) connecting veterans to services available to them through the VA. These important distinctions create a space for veterans seeking treatment and provide a structured environment to get their lives back on track. Similar to adult drug treatment courts, VTCs provide wraparound services to assist veterans with housing, education, parenting skills, career placement, and counseling. The ultimate goal for the court team members is to be a resource for veterans as they work through their substance use and mental health treatment.

Our final shout out goes to Judge Robert Russell. Judge Russell opened the doors of the first VTC in 2008 in Buffalo, New York. Since then over 300 VTCs have emerged throughout the United States and many more are in the planning stages. Having seen anecdotal success, VTCs have peaked researchers’ interest and are starting to be studied. Our first edition of Drug Court Review will feature VTCs and present research findings on topics such as VTC participant identification, importance of peer mentorship in VTCs, issues dealing with procedural justice, legitimacy, and legalizing treatment, and a legal commentary on prosecutorial veto in VTCs. This review, conducted under JPO’s National Drug Court Resource Center will be released this winter. As you read the drug court review on VTCs, you’ll see this is just the beginning and there’s a dire need for further research into VTCs.

Our office continues to support veterans by being a resource for treatment court professionals. I encourage you to look for ways you can directly or indirectly support veterans as well.

Preeti Menon is the Justice Programs Office’s senior associate director and project director of the National Drug Court Resource Center

Thankful for the Right to Vote: Ensuring Returning Citizens Have the Right Also

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Every year when November comes, I immediately think of Thanksgiving and what I am thankful for. This year, November also means midterm elections and exercising our right to vote. I recognize, though, that not everyone is able to participate in this essential part of our democratic process whether it is due to misinformation, cumbersome voter registration laws, or felony disenfranchisement laws. Being able to vote allows us to share our voice and help shape the direction of this country. Breaking down the barriers to voting is critical to making sure all voices are heard. That is why this year, I am so thankful that Florida voters passed Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to more than one million citizens with a felony conviction.

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Anti-Bullying Month – Letting Light in

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Anti-Bullying Month is an initiative supported by the American people and our government. Our country needs to heal in multiple spaces. Our people need love. Our kids and teens need us to guide them. We see the implications bullying has in our current political and social climates. It harnesses divide, boasts the wrong priorities, distracts and destroys.

To let light into the darkest spaces is immeasurably difficult. It takes deep breathing, stepping back, and utter discomfort to get to this place. It takes forgiveness. Change can only come through awareness, acknowledgement, and action.

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Community Approaches to Public Safety on Halloween

My first Halloween experience was when I was 12 years old. As a recently arrived immigrant to the United States, Halloween was a uniquely American experience for me and it was thrilling to discover haunted houses, carved Picture of pumpkinspumpkins, and elaborate costumes. I still remember staying up late on Halloween and trading candy with my siblings after trick-or-treating. Today, I feel like I am a pro at Halloween, I have a collection of cute decorations, I create jack-o-lanterns, I plan my kids’ costumes, and I make sure my house has the best candy on the block. As an adult, I still appreciate the innocent Halloween fun, but I am also aware of the public safety challenges this celebration can pose. This includes keeping kids safe as they explore en masse, protecting pedestrians and drivers, and preventing intentional mischief that could result in serious harm.

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In Re Gault – Progress or Regression

“The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” – Unknown

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As I walked into my first (and only!) law class in grad school, there was a quote written on the whiteboard. Our professor looked at us and asked, “How does this apply to our case today?” The case in question was “In re Gault,” the landmark US Supreme Court case which established the right to counsel for juveniles in delinquency cases in 1967. That may have been my only law class, but I continue to grapple with the issues raised by this case through my work training and providing technical assistance to juvenile drug treatment courts. In the 51 years since Gault, we’ve come a long way to ensure justice for youth, but there are still steps we need to take, especially when it comes to the right to counsel.

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