Municipal Specialized Docket
The objective of Veterans Court is to divert veterans from the traditional criminal justice system to a treatment-based court in order to rehabilitate and assist veterans in leading a productive and law abiding life.
Ohio has over 900,000 veterans, the sixth largest population of veterans among the fifty states. Veterans returning home after discharge find it difficult to transition back into civilian life since many suffer from mental/emotional wounds, such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Most often these veterans did not have a criminal history before their tour of duty. Most of them served in a combat zone, deployed in multiple tours, and received the Purple Heart. Many are homeless, unemployed, disconnected from family, have not applied for any benefit assistance and have not sought any form of help through the Cincinnati VA Hospital although they are eligible for these services. Many veterans self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. Some are suicidal.
Hamilton County Veterans Court brings the multitude of the services and resources from our community to the courtroom to assist the veteran with mental health care, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, medical, housing, transportation, educational and employment resources, and veterans’ benefits.
Judge Melissa Powers
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ----John F. Kennedy
As Judge Powers saw veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in her courtroom, mainly for Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI), often with the “thousand yard stare”, she realized something more must be done to help the courageous and honorable young men and women. She became committed to doing more to help our veterans. Two years in the making, Judge Powers held the first Hamilton County Municipal Veterans Court on April 5, 2012. She was committed to helping the returning veteran heal from the wounds of war.
The Veteran Treatment Court helps criminal defendants who are veterans deal with trauma and other issues resulting from warfare with the aim of providing healing, support, and a second chance. It does not excuse the veteran for committing criminal offenses. Rather, the level of commitment to the judicial supervision of treatment is more stringent than traditional based probation. Veterans who fail to comply with the treatment requirements are diverted to a regular hearing.
Once the veteranin the criminal justice system is identified through evidence-based screening and assessments, a referral may be made through pre-trial services, a probation officer, public defender or defense attorney, a prosecutor, or a Judge. The veteran voluntarily commits to participate in the Veterans Court by signing a contract with the court. The veterans are judicially supervised in their compliance with a treatment plan that was developed by a team of specialists.
The treatment team, which can consist of mental health specialists, pre-trial services, peer mentors, a Veteran Justice Outreach Officer, probation officer, law enforcement officer(s), public defender, prosecutor, vocational rehabilitation specialist, work in conjunction with the professional medical and psychological care providers at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center to create a specific treatment plan for each veteran. In addition, the team educates and assists the veteran who may be unaware of the eligibility for VA programs and services. Veterans suffering from PTSD, TBI, or other issues often require additional assistance to enroll for benefits they have earned.
The CHANGE Court is a specialized docket in Hamilton County Municipal Court which encourages and assists prostitutes to leave prostitution and addiction.
Judge Heather Russell
In response to community concern, Judge Heather Russell was approached by Cincinnati Police Officers asking her to become part of a community-wide effort to help prostitutes leave prostitution and addiction. In August of 2014, the Municipal Court approved the creation of the CHANGE Court, and Judge Russell in particular, in order to take a lead role in the effort.
To be eligible for CHANGE Court, an individual must be charged with prostitution, loitering to solicit, or soliciting prostitution. A person may also have additional charges and still be eligible for the program. Typically, police officers or Pretrial Services personnel identify potential participants and offer the person an opportunity to enter CHANGE Court. Participation is strictly voluntary and the entire stay in the program is typically 2 year process. A team of professionals assesses the individual and a treatment plan is put in place to assist the individual through the process. The treatment team will address many potential issues including; addiction, mental health, trauma, education, homelessness, joblessness, and family issues. See brochure describing program.
The CHANGE Court treatment team is a collaborative effort of many partners in the community including; Off The Streets, Salvation Army’s “End Slavery” Initiative, First Step Home, Chaney Allen House,. CCAT, Hamilton County Probation, Hamilton County Pretrial Services, Cincinnati and Hamilton County Prosecutors’ Offices, Public Defender’s Office, Local Law Enforcement, Mental Health Services and Recovery Board, Lighthouse Services for Youth, Talbert House and Judge Heather Russell.
Goal of Program
The goal of the program is to provide participants with tools for a lifetime of sobriety, in addition to skills for opportunities in education, employment and housing.