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Jamie Rowen receives National Science Foundation grant to study Veteran’s Courts

In the criminal justice world, veterans are a uniquely sympathetic population. “We end up thinking about veteran trauma differently than we think about the trauma of growing up in the inner cities,” says Dr. Jamie Rowen. How do courts conceptualize war? Is it traumatic? Is it noble? Can it be both?

Dr. Jamie Rowen, 2017-18 Center for Research on Families (CRF) Family Research Scholar, socio-legal scholar, and legal studies professor, received one of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) most prestigious awards — the CAREER Award, which is the highest recognition NSF gives to early-career faculty. The five-year, $500,000 grant is supporting Rowen’s research into Veteran’s Treatment Courts (VTCs) – a program that emerged as one response to a growing concern that veterans are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, and have unique, unmet needs.

Rowen studies the use of law to help vulnerable populations and to solve entrenched social problems. Rowen’s early work focused more broadly on the effects of war on individuals. She studied refugees in South Africa, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Columbia, Vietnam, and Morocco to understand the long-term effects of war on those living in war zones. On her return to the U.S, she wondered what the U.S. was doing to help survivors of war, primarily veterans. “This grant is focused on VTCs as windows into understanding broader issues related to social justice and criminal justice in the United States,” she says. For her research team it is personal. They all have connections to the lives of veterans – one is a graduate student at the University of California Berkeley who is a child of veterans and another a legal fellow at the University of Miami who is a veteran.

 VTCs serve two purposes - one, retribution, similar to a traditional court, and two, to encourage and compel individuals to seek substance abuse and mental health treatment. The judge in these courts value feedback and suggestions from caseworkers working with veterans. Judges in these courts, unlike typical courts, consider both legal outcomes and treatment outcomes. What Rowen has found, so far, is that veterans involved in VTCs were already a vulnerable population prior to joining the military, often suffering from poverty, substance abuse, and trauma even before their war experiences. “These people are not getting enough resources before they go into the military, while in the military, and when they leave the military,” she says. Rowen also found that sometimes VTCs can actually do more harm than good for veterans. She stresses that the VTCs are only as effective as the social services that they have access to and collaborate with to support veterans. Rowen will develop concrete suggestions for positive changes to the VTC system. She wants to ensure that the people working in VTCs know about the variety of resources available to veterans, while ensuring that veterans have access to those resources.

Throughout this process, Rowen has been struck by how much the employees of VTCs are doing to support veterans. She says, “The pride these people have in their work and the drive to do it better has been moving. They want to do better. People involved in criminal justice work, a lot of them, have the same mentality as those in social justice work.” What if other vulnerable populations could also be seen by the courts from this dual perspective of justice and treatment?  She hopes policy makers will open up their thinking about other criminal defendants. Grateful for the support she received during her CRF scholar year, Rowen says, “I would have never had this grant without the CRF, I say that to everybody. Never.”