Add To Favorites

'Treatment instead of prison': Specialty court to aid EBR veterans debuts in 19th JDC

The Advocate - 2/16/2024

Feb. 16—A new pathway to recovery is available for East Baton Rouge military veterans who get in trouble with the law.

The 19th Judicial District Court has launched its long-anticipated Veterans Treatment Court, a diversionary program customized to help those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces but are now accused of civilian crimes. The project is designed to provide court supervision and intensive treatment to help struggling veterans cope with life outside the military.

Local leaders gathered inside the 19th JDC courthouse with program partners and administrators for an opening ceremony Thursday to christen the specialty court.

"We are extremely excited. It's been a long, winding process," said District Judge Ronald Johnson, who is presiding over the court. "All of this has never been done before, first time in the history of this court. We've never had a veterans treatment court ... We're the capital city. We have the largest number of veterans in the state out of East Baton Rouge Parish. And we want to make sure we try to treat those individuals."

The court accomplishes a mission Johnson has championed since he campaigned in 2019, as he led the push to bring the state's fifth veterans court to the 19th JDC. To reach the milestone, the district court received a $700,000 federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a leadership and funding component of the U.S. Department of Justice. That money will fund the first four years of the program, and court officials hope to treat 30 veterans in that span.

The opening date for the new court had been set for last summer, but that timeline was delayed as Johnson and his team tweaked the rollout and worked to find someone to lead day-to-day operations.

Jimecia Williams entered the fray in January as the treatment court's program coordinator. She will work behind the scenes to keep the assigned veterans in the program aligned with treatment facilities that have partnered with the court.

"I'm excited to be here at the start of the program, because that way I'll be here to see it grow into what we know it's going to be," Williams said. "It's an amazing program for the city and for the state itself. Having people close in my life who are veterans and knowing the struggles that they've experienced themselves with inadequate access to resources, just makes it even more important for me to be here in this position doing what I can for the veterans."

Veterans accused of violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter, rape, domestic abuse or any DUIs that resulted in death are not eligible to participate in Louisiana veterans courts. State law also prohibits vets who have been convicted of or have pending charges for homicide or serious sexual offenses.

But veterans court gives those charged with other felonies and misdemeanors an option beyond traditional prosecution. The court defers participants' criminal proceedings and suspends the imposition of any sentence if they plead guilty to their respective charges and undergo the rigorous treatment. Veterans are subject to random drug testing, but they also are exposed to recovery skills and mentorship from other vets.

After completing the program, the veteran's charges are dropped and removed from their record.

Combat vets are a vulnerable demographic too often plagued with substance abuse issues, mental health struggles, trauma-related disorders, heightened anxieties, medical comorbidity, homelessness and high suicide rates.

At Thursday's ceremony, Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Earnest Buckner Jr. noted that veterans routinely struggle to find jobs and fall into depression and homelessness when they try to reintegrate into civilian life. That often leads to a spiral that ends with them in jail or prison.

"Veteran treatment court is an acknowledgment to that veteran by the justice system that we're very much aware of how they may have landed there," he said. "And it gives the courts the option to offer treatment instead of prison for these veterans that suffer from issues surrounding the services and the sacrifices that they've made."


(c)2024 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Visit The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.