Ind. veterans court seeks mentors to help offenders

By CARSON GERBER | The Kokomo Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 9, 2018

Are you a veteran interested in helping other veterans who have ended up on the wrong side of the law? Then a new mentoring program through Indiana's Howard County veterans court might be for you.

Howard Superior Court II Judge Brant Parry, who is overseeing the program, said the new veterans court could be up and running by the first week of April, and he hopes to have a solid group of mentors in place to help those participating in the program.

That program will allow qualifying offenders in a four-county region who served in the military to get treatment and enter a diversion program rather than go to jail. If offenders complete the program, their criminal charges will be dismissed.

And research has shown that offenders who have a mentor are more likely to successfully complete the program and avoid becoming a repeat offender, said Laura O’Donnell, a local attorney and Army reservist who is serving as the mentor-program coordinator.

“Having a mentor is vital for the long-term success of these veterans,” she said. “This is about fixing them and giving them someone to talk to so we’re not just punishing veterans, but actually helping them.”

Parry said they hope to have at least 30 mentors in place when the program launches. He said mentors must be veterans who have been honorably discharged. But more importantly, they have to have a passion for helping their fellow veterans.

“These are people who believe in the cause and want to help,” he said. “They would walk side by side with the participant and be involved in the person’s life and be their accountability partner and help them through the program – and it’s is a difficult program.”

“We’re going to need a lot of people, and this isn’t a small commitment,” Parry said.

Anyone interested in serving as a mentor in the program is encouraged to attend a call-out meeting to sign up or get more details. Those meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. March 20 and at noon and 5:30 p.m. on March 22 at the Inventrek auditorium, 700 E. Firmin St.

The county started investigating the feasibility of installing a veterans court in Howard County last year after learning state officials wanted a veterans court in every judicial district.

Howard County is part of Indiana Judicial District 8, which also includes Miami, Cass and Fulton counties – none of which have a veterans court. Parry has agreed to host the court for all four counties in the district.

Parry said the county is currently working on revising the court’s policies and procedures after the Indiana Office of Court Services visited the county in February to review the program and offer recommendations on how best to run it.

He said the county hopes to send its revised policy manual to the state in the next two weeks and get provisional approval to start accepting veterans into the program by early April.

“(The state) is really positive about this because they know we have a lot of veterans in our region, so they’re excited to get this up and running,” Parry said.

Although the court could be operating soon, the success of the program will depend in large part on the mentoring program, O’Donnell said.

That program will also include a of pool mentors from the community to offer advice and guidance to veterans on finding employment, getting education and becoming financially stable.

O’Donnell said anyone interested in volunteering for those positions should also attend the call-out meetings.

“This is an easy way to be involved in your community and have a positive impact on someone who is really struggling,” she said. “You may be that person who changes their life.”

For more information about the program or call-out meetings, contact O'Donnell at 765-459-3941 or laura.odonnell@bhcmlaw.com.

©2018 the Kokomo Tribune (Kokomo, Ind.)
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