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Reintegrating an “Army of One”: Understanding the Culture and Mechanisms in Veterans Treatment Courts


Recognizing that criminal behavior stems from multiple loci, Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) utilize a therapeutic jurisprudential approach to simultaneously treat PTSD from combat trauma, substance abuse issues, and criminality. VTCs are especially important to examine because of their potential success in curbing recidivism for their clients. For example, the Orange County Veterans Treatment Court (OC VTC) that is the site for this dissertation has maintained a recidivism rate of 10.4% for their 87 graduates since its formation in 2009 (Superior Court of California, County of Orange, 2016). This research constitutes an in-depth institutional ethnography of one Southern California VTC, the Orange County VTC. I draw on over three years of nonparticipant observation at 117 court sessions in the OC VTC, and more 23 in-depth interviews with both current court participants and graduates and a judge, exploring participants’ experiences with and perceptions of the OC VTC.

Chapter 1 explores how the court functions, providing a detailed account of the court process. I also analyze how participants become involved with the court and what contributes to their decision to enter the court program. Chapter 2 examines the legalization of treatment in VTCs vis-à-vis the role of and deference to the court treatment team. In this chapter I show how the treatment process provides accountability to participants to their treatment, but also has coercive elements in its application. Chapter 3 focuses on the procedural justice-related elements of the court and analyzes participant perceptions of the court. This chapter illuminates the importance of emphasizing outcomes of rehabilitation and how this context filters perceptions of procedural justice for participants. Finally, Chapter 4 analyzes the utilization of identity in the court process, which provides the framework and narrative of participant identity transformations in the court. This theory-driven explanation of programmatic procedures will expand understandings of not only VTCs, to understand what contributes to a participant’s decisions to change.

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