A Riverside County Superior Court program that offers treatment options for veterans facing criminal penalties that may stem from substance abuse and similar problems received a $350,000 federal infusion, it was announced today.
The Veterans Court, implemented in January, was awarded the three-year grant from the U.S. Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance.
The funds will go toward maximizing resources for veterans "who have entered the criminal justice system as a result of their dedicated service," according to a court statement. "Funding will be used to enhance the program's ability to test for drugs and alcohol, client transportation, interim housing ... evaluation and additional probation support."
Superior Court Judge Mark Johnson, an Army reservist and former defense attorney, oversees the Veterans Court, which is held once a week at the downtown Riverside courthouse.
The program offers resources to veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or who have substance abuse issues or psychological problems stemming from their deployment to combat zones or experiences that led to childhood trauma.
In exchange for having their cases heard in the Veterans Court, defendants have to plead guilty or consent to their probation being reinstated. Felons and misdemeanants are eligible to participate. They're placed in intense 18-month treatment programs, with regular progress reports to the judge.
Agencies partnering in the effort include the District Attorney's Office, the Mental Health and Probation departments, the Office of the Public Defender, the Riverside Police Department and the U.S. Veterans Administration. The federal funding will support 65 veterans who opt to enter the program, according to court officials.