By Usman O. Suleman, CFCC Student Fellow (2018-2019)
Therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ) is a theory of law that is one of the shaping principles of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts. TJ is an interdisciplinary philosophy of law that takes into consideration social sciences and data to promote favorable results over detrimental ones. Favorable results are referred to as “therapeutic,” while unfavorable ones are referred to as “anti-therapeutic.” TJ aims to restructure the legal system in such a fashion that minimizes anti-therapeutic results as much as possible and maximizes therapeutic results. Such approaches often require more flexibility than permitted in the typical judicial system. It is with this goal in mind that many problem-solving courts were created.
On November 13th, 2018, the Baltimore City Veterans Treatment Court (VTC) celebrated its third-year anniversary and the graduation of six of its participants. The Honorable Halee F. Weinstein founded the court in 2015, after observing veterans go through the city’s criminal and other treatment courts. Veterans Treatment Court programs nationwide are founded on the understanding that veterans can experience unique issues with criminal activity, drug/alcohol dependency, and other mental health challenges.
The transition from duty to civilian life can be arduous. Supporting that transition while addressing the aforementioned challenges, fueled the creation of VTC programs nationwide. Our nation’s veterans who sacrificed on our behalf deserve a judicial system willing to take their circumstances into consideration. VTC programs are founded on 10 key components, which are based on therapeutic jurisprudence principles.[i]
- Veterans Treatment Courts integrate alcohol, drug treatment, and mental health services with justice system case processing.
- Prosecution and defense counsel use a non-adversarial approach to promote public safety, while protecting participants’ due process rights.
- Eligible participants are identified early and promptly placed in the Veterans Treatment Court program.
- Veterans Treatment Courts provide access to a continuum of alcohol, drug, mental health, and other related treatment and rehabilitation services.
- Abstinence is monitored by frequent alcohol and other drug testing.
- A coordinated strategy governs Veteran Treatment Court responses to participants’ compliance.
- Ongoing judicial interaction with each veteran is essential.
- Monitoring and evaluation measure the achievement of program goals and gauge effectiveness.
- Continuing interdisciplinary education promotes effective Veterans Treatment Court planning, implementation, and operations.
- Forging partnerships among Veterans Treatment Court, Veterans Administration, public agencies, and community-based organizations generates local support and enhances Veterans Treatment Court effectiveness.
I have had the pleasure of working in and observing Baltimore City’s VTC program for the past three months and have witnessed first-hand how TJ came into play in the program. Nothing was more telling of the success of TJ and the program than the graduation ceremony. During the ceremony, Judge Weinstein shared that so far, the VTC program has a 0% recidivism rate for its graduates. Notably, only two charges have been made post-graduation, with one nolle prossed and the other charge resulting in a not guilty verdict.
I am hopeful that, where appropriate, justice can look more like the way it does in the VTC program than in the traditional judicial system. On multiple occasions, participants in the program have been presented with the opportunity to resolve their criminal charges, despite not fulfilling their program goals. Each time the participants elected to remain in the program. Justice can be so beautiful and encouraging when the community comes together to provide resources to those who need them. The successes of the Baltimore VTC program and VTC programs nationwide will hopefully lead society down a therapeutic judicial future.
[i] “10 Key Components for Veterans Treatment Courts.” NDCRC.org, 28 June 2017, ndcrc.org/resource/10-key-components-for-veterans-treatment-courts/.