Harris County Veterans' Court

Diversion to treatment in Houston, Texas for a population that is disproportionately impacted by homelessness, mental illness, and addiction, including opioid use disorders

One of the most researched and well-known courts of its kind, the Harris County Veterans' Court, established in 2008, aims to increase access to mental health and addiction treatment for those veterans with felony and misdemeanor offenses. Veterans are diverted directly into Veterans Affairs (VA) treatment, which can reduce jail time, costs, and criminal recidivism, while improving mental health recovery and successful re-entry into the community. 

The program involves regular visits with the a Veterans Justice Outreach Coordinator (VJO) and with mental health professionals involved in the client's care (psychiatrist, therapists, treatment groups, etc.), based on the psychiatrist's recommendations and evolving through the course of participation with the involvement of the veterans' treatment court team. Random drug testing is typically a component of the program. There are regular court dockets, initially twice monthly, and as the client progresses, these become monthly. The duration of the program is typically two years. 

The primary goals of the Harris County Veterans' Court are: 

  • Improving access to needed mental health and addiction treatment for jailed veterans
  • Reducing criminal recidivism through successful treatment outcomes and community reintegration
  • Improving long-term mental health recovery and community reintegration through involvement in structured, comprehensive treatment
  • Reducing jail time and resolving felony charges related primarily to mental health, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and addiction issues
  • Reducing costs associated with unnecessary incarceration

More information on this program can be found in these presentations here and here

An overview of veterans' courts throughout the United States can be found here, a report with best practices can be found here, and a report informed by interviewing experts in the veterans' court field can be found here

A longer stay or completion of the program is associated with a decreased risk of rearrest following separation from the court.

Continuum of Care
Type of Evidence
Response Approach
Early Intervention
Peer-reviewed Article

Evidence of Program Effectiveness

Preliminary results are promising:

"The high prevalence of substance use, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental illness in the veteran population presents unique public health and social justice challenges...The point of contact with the criminal justice system, however, presents an opportunity to establish mental health treatment...A longer stay within the program, resulting from successful completion of the 2‐year program or lengthier veterans' treatment court participation due to delayed phase progression as a sanction for non‐compliance, is associated with a decreased risk of rearrest following separation from the court." (Yerramsetti et al., 2017)

Of the first 100 participants in the Harris County Veterans' Court Program, those with opioid use disorder seemed to do worse although the sample size was small: "A prior diagnosis of opiate misuse was also predictive of arrest following separation (from the veterans' court)." (Johnson et al., 2015)