After nearly 10 years overseeing Vanderburgh County's Drug Court, Judge Wayne Trockman will hand over the reins to fellow Superior Court Judge David Kiely later this month.
Kiely is also spearheading the creation of a Veterans Treatment Court, a first for Indiana, although similar courts are slowly beginning to catch on in other communities in the nation.
Nearly 300 participants have graduated from the county's original Drug Court, which will mark its 10th anniversary in April.
Kiely noted that the work Trockman has put into Drug Court has been in addition to his normal judicial caseload.
"His job is overwhelming. The work he puts in is tremendous, and he has been doing it 10 years," Kiely said. "We don't decrease our caseloads when we do this."
Drug courts divert nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems from jail or prison into treatment, offering them access to long-term, comprehensive services under a judge's supervision. The goal is to break the cycle of drug use, criminal behavior and incarceration that leads people to re-offend and holds them back from a better quality of life.
The court has become a role model for problem-solving courts in Indiana. While Trockman will be stepping back from Drug Court, he will continue to work with two other similarly innovative court programs he has been instrumental in developing in Vanderburgh County: Forensic Diversion Court and Re-Entry Court.
Forensic Diversion Courts allow for people convicted and sentenced on lesser felony charges to participate in a court-supervised program rather than serve prison time.
Vanderburgh County's Re-Entry Court, meanwhile, works with the Indiana Department of Correction by allowing felony offenders to serve a portion of their sentence in segregated treatment communities at state prisons such as Branchville. Upon returning to Vanderburgh County, inmates participate in a supervised program of treatment and education, followed by a period on drug and alcohol offenders.
While the three courts provide assistance to a broad range of individuals whose substance abuse has snared them in the criminal system, one group of people that remains underserved is veterans.
Assistance beyond what is currently provided in Vanderburgh County is available through the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, but veterans caught up in substance abuse problems often find it hard to connect with it.
"We have had a number of veterans in our program. We have found it difficult to network with Veterans Affairs to adequately provide services to the veterans we have," Trockmans said. "We can do better by our veterans. There are so many veterans today that need help than even 10 years ago."
But because the Veterans Treatment Court will work closely with Veterans Affairs it will be better able to connect vets with the services available to them.
"They can provide services that we can't, especially in regard to mental health," Trockman said.
A 2009 report by the Drug Policy Alliance found that roughly 200,000 veterans nationally were estimated to be in prison or jail because of substance abuse or mental health issues. The report found that more than 60 percent of incarcerated veterans met the criteria for substance dependence or abuse. Additionally, the report found that nearly half of the veterans incarcerated in federal prisons, and 15 percent in state prisons, were there for drug offenses.
Drug Court Director Debbie Mowbray said establishing a Veterans Treatment Court here will fit with the court's goal of "helping anybody and everybody who has an addiction and who fits the requirements of our program."
Like the county's other problem-solving courts, the new Veterans Treatment Court will help its participants through their problems while also serving their sentences, and avoiding the felony convictions that might make finding employment later difficult.
"They aren't getting the resources that are available to them," Kiely said.
Establishing such veterans courts in communities has been part of the Veterans Affairs's plan to end homelessness among veterans, said Marie Hulett, who oversees the behavioral health programs for the administration's Veterans Integrated Systems Network of service centers.
"It's giving them the quality of life back that they deserve to have," she said.
She said the VA will provide a case manager to work full time with the county's Veterans Treatment Court to help meet vets' needs.
Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Department's Deputy Mike Collins works off duty as a verification officer for the county's Drug Court, making home checks to ensure participants are complying and that they have what they need. He also serves in the Indiana Army National Guard and deployed in 2007 to Iraq.
Collins knows firsthand the needs of veterans returning to civilian society.
"When they come home they have a lot of issues coping and adjusting back to a family and everyday requirements," he said. "There is a lot of anxiety and other issues with what they see 'in country' and in combat. There is psychological and physical stress."
Many come back addicted or nearly addicted to painkillers or other medications and find themselves coping with that reliance long after they have been cut off from receiving the medications.
"We have put them in these situations, and we have to take care of them," Collins said.
By Mark Wilson
Evansville Courier & Press
Posted January 15, 2011 at