Commentary: Judging by the correct standards

By Wisconsin Law Journal Staff

Dolan Media Newswires

MILWAUKEE, WI--Ten defendants have completed the Rock County Veterans Treatment Court program in the three years since the court's founding, and not one has reoffended.

That 100 percent success rate is not enough for Rock County District Attorney David O'Leary, however, who recently said he no longer will refer veteran-defendants to the program.

O'Leary is concerned about the program in light of an analysis written by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater sociology professor Paul Gregory at the request of the Rock County Court Administration. Gregory's report, which came out in January, compares components of the veterans court to 10 key components of drug courts developed by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

In particular, the report raises concerns about how the program handles drug testing, trains mentors and issues sanctions.

But Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley, who presides over the program, said Gregory and O'Leary are wrong to hold the veterans treatment court to drug court standards.

In his report, Gregory harps on Rock County's "extremely minimal" drug testing, a criticism O'Leary pointed out, as well.

Although some of the veteran-defendants are substance-abusers, that is not the primary concern of the court, which instead seeks to assist men and women dealing with a range of medical and psychological problems resulting from their time in the military.

The problems veterans face are distinctive due to their experiences, which is why specific treatment courts were developed for that population, said Brown County Circuit Judge Kendall Kelley, who oversees the Northeast Wisconsin Veterans Treatment Court.

Veterans court programs started popping up nationally in 2008 following the longer-term success of drug treatment courts, the first of which started in Florida in 1989. Though both courts handle defendants with specific problems, the similarities end there, Kelley said.

"It's not so much that veterans courts have a different standard, but a different focus," Kelley said. "It's the equivalent of if I went into a drug treatment program and condemned them for not providing PTSD training."

O'Leary criticized the veterans court for lacking specific standards, but Kelley argued that more data is needed to determine what works best. The standards drug courts are held to were developed after more than 10 years of research, Kelley said, and veterans courts don't yet have a similar wealth of knowledge to draw from.

That information cannot be gathered if county officials are not willing to give the programs a shot.

O'Leary and others need to let veterans programs grow and develop their own specific standards, not squelch them before they've had a chance to prove the reasons behind their success.

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Published: Mon, May 27, 2013

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