Two Tennessee veterans courts are the recipients of $40,000 in total grants from the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education & Specialization. The move is a result of an ongoing effort on several fronts to address the issues facing veterans and service members, particularly in light of the ongoing drawdown.
The Tennessee General Assembly recently passed a resolution urging the Tennessee Supreme Court to educate Tennessee’s judges regarding the importance of justice-involved veterans and service members and to take appropriate measures to support the creation of new veterans treatment courts and dockets in the state.
Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge; Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville; and Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge all have been instrumental in supporting efforts to champion veterans treatment courts in Tennessee. These funds will further those efforts.
The CLE Commission has earmarked a total of $100,000 for use as an incentive for courts throughout the state to seek education, training, and administrative support for these specialized courts and dockets serving veterans.
“Our organization is privileged to have the opportunity to support local courts and communities in providing these much-needed services to local veterans,” said Judy Bond-McKissack, Executive Director of the CLE Commission.
Veterans courts are specialized problem-solving courts that go beyond traditional judicial methods. They are long-term, judicially supervised, multi-phase courts designed to assist persons who have served (or are currently serving) in the military, who have been charged with a criminal offense, who are at high risk for reoffending absent intensive intervention, and who have significant mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Essentially, a veterans treatment court is a veteran-specific hybrid of a drug treatment court and a mental health treatment court.
In 2012, at the request of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Administrative Office of the Courts conducted an extensive study regarding the feasibility of creating a statewide system of veterans treatment courts.
The AOC found that allowing individual courts flexibility in handling the needs of the community was key to the success of the courts. The study went on to say that the most effective and cost-efficient method of assisting the largest number of men and women who have served this country is to permit each judicial district to incorporate the veteran-specific services into the court system’s existing framework, including the existing drug and mental health treatment courts.
“The Judiciary of the State of Tennessee is especially committed to seeking solutions for those within the criminal justice system who have given a portion of their lives to the service of their country,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary R. Wade.
The Supreme Court, with the encouragement of the General Assembly, recently launched a task force charged with creating a veterans court model for future use in trial and general sessions courts throughout the state. Many of the members of the task force are judges who are active members of the National Guard.
Montgomery and Shelby counties are the only two Tennessee counties that have a freestanding veterans treatment court, and each will receive $20,000 from the CLE Commission to support training, operating and administrative costs.
“The CLE Commission believes this funding provides the support that is much needed to further the efforts of these very important segments of our judiciary,” said Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia A. Clark, who serves as the Supreme Court’s liaison to the commission.
The Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education & Specialization monitors CLE requirements and administers the specialization program for attorneys in the state of Tennessee. The funds are from administrative and non-compliance fees the commission has collected over several years. Members of the commission are appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court.