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

Wed, 05/24/2017


Date:  May 24, 2017

Time:  2:30pm - 4:30pm

Location:  Social Ecology II,  Room 2372

Featuring:  Nicole Sherman, Candidate for Ph.D. in Criminology, Law & Society



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

Committee:  Keramet Reiter (Chair), Susan Coutin, Cheryl Maxson, Francesca Polletta, and Julie Marie Baldwin


Recognizing that criminal behavior stems from multiple loci, Veterans Treatment Courts (VTCs) utilize a therapeutic jurisprudential approach to treat PTSD from combat trauma, substance abuse issues, and criminality. VTCs have received very little academic attention since their establishment. Therefore, this dissertation will advance understandings of this fast-growing specialty court. VTCs are especially important to examine because of their potential success in curbing recidivism for their clients. For example, the Orange County Combat Veterans Court (OC CVC) that is the site for this dissertation has maintained a recidivism rate of approximately 10.4% for their 87 graduates since its formation in 2009. In addition to a low return to criminal behavior, participants often graduate from the court program with renewed familial ties; better established employment and career trajectories, including enrollment in educational programs; and a new, earnest attitude towards life.

This research constitutes an in-depth institutional ethnography of one Southern California VTC, the Orange County Veterans Treatment Court (OC VTC). I draw on over three years of observation at 117 court sessions in the OC CVC, 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. This dissertation demonstrates how participants restructure their lives through powerful narratives, community support, and reaffirmation of their veteran identities. Specifically, I outline how VTCs generally function and highlight the mechanisms that both impact program progress and affect the overall subculture of the court. This research evaluates how the court actors interact to produce the collaborative space the Veterans Treatment Court represents. Integrating a hybrid of socio-legal and criminological theory, the dissertation explores how participants restructure their lives through this 18-month program. This theory-driven explanation of programmatic procedures will expand understandings of not only VTCs, but can be applied to other specialty courts as well