A unique court in Central Maine now has a proven success rate for turning lives around.
The Co-Occurring Disorders and Veterans Court is for people with substance abuse and mental health issues.
One track of the program is for civilians, the other for veterans.
Recently, the Maine Law Court reviewed the work of the Kennebec County court.
It found since 2014, only one of the ten who’ve graduated Co-Occurring Disorders has committed a new crime.
That rate’s even better for the 13 graduates of Veterans Court.
“All rise! The Honorable Justice Nancy Mills presiding.”
Every Monday for months Roxanne Montgomery has come to this courtroom in Augusta.
The Army veteran struggles with post traumatic stress disorder.
The result – a string of OUI charges, ending in December of 2014.
“Apparently I drove my car, smashed into a telephone pole. I don’t remember anything. That was definitely rock bottom for me, but that’s how I got into this court.”
This court is Veterans Court, an extension of the Co-Occurring Disorders Court that started in 2005.
It’s an intense effort – usually a year-and-a-half long – to help people move out of crime and back into the community.
One of the most notable graduates of Co-Occurring Disorders is Christopher Knight. The man known as the North Pond Hermit spent nearly three decades in the woods in Rome, committing hundreds of burglaries.
District Attorney Maeghan Maloney says without this court, he faced up to eight years in prison.
“Before someone can graduate, that person has to have a job, that person has to have a plan for living, that person has to show they are no longer using any substances. So they have to show that their life has been put together.”
Maloney says a recent review found the court’s success is constantly repeated, especially for veterans.
“Not a single veteran has graduated from the Veterans Court and committed another crime – zero recidivism rate. It doesn’t get anymore successful than that. The recidivism rate for people who commit crimes, especially serious felonies is in the high 70%. When people go to prison, they commit another crime. With the Veterans Court they don’t.”
Maloney says one reason the court works is the judge who helped start it, Nancy Mills. She’s balances compassion with consequences.
Counseling and regular drug testing are part of the routine, too.
Mentors – like veteran Norman Lawrence, the president of Veteran Mentors of Maine – also team up with defendants.
“I just have a heart for these guys – I’ve been there. You know the good you’re doing because you’re seeing it.”
Montgomery says Veterans Court gave her back a support system.
“It means everything to me. It’s been so long since I’ve had a group of people, you know, in my corner.”
And may have saved her life.
“I would probably be in prison. If not I could have easily been dead by now. Just the way I had been drinking, the way things were progressing – I could have easily killed myself.”
Now, she says, “I’m living on my own, paying my own bills, keeping my place clean, staying sober. None of this stuff would have happened two years ago or year and a half ago. Yeah, I do see a future – and it’s pretty bright.”
We were in court for Judge Mill’s last day on the bench.
She’s been given a lot of credit for the court’s success.
Other key aspects – participants have to move to Kennebec County.
They still spend some time in jail.
And when they graduate, they’re on probation and face a severe sentence if they commit a new crime.
In Part 2 of Courtroom Success, we’ll met a combat veteran who’s an example of what the court can do.