JOIP intern Kimberly Oliveira, from the University of Alabama’s New College, reflects on her summer placement. Part of a series of thought pieces from our interns embedded in communities across Alabama.

Walker County began its Veteran Treatment Court (VTC) in 2014 to help veterans facing criminal charges. This program, as well as the Drug Court, are under the supervision of  District Court Judge Henry Allred. 

Walker County is not the only county to offer Veterans Court. Shelby County created the first one in Alabama in 2012, which was inspired by the first ever program in Buffalo, New York, established in 2008. Today, 23 Veterans Courts operate in Alabama. 

Walker County’s Director of Community Corrections Steven Shaver works directly with veterans in the program, seeing them at least once a week or more. Eighteen months of supervision, which includes mandatory counseling and weekly meetings with Judge Allred and members of the Veterans Court team, are required. 

The approach is proving to be more effective than traditional incarceration. Only 15.7 percent of program graduates re-offend, a much lower rate than the average number of those who leave prison to only return to a life of crime.


The program is successful in helping graduates find healthier, crime free lives. It also provides a better financial option for the citizens of Walker County. Due to the lack of trials, the county has saved $556,500 since the VTC started in 2015. To date, the total savings for Walker County citizens is approximately $12 million.

Shaver explained that the program benefits the community by “preventing a person from going to prison, which is costly and in facts makes the person a better criminal.” 

“We will need to be ready to serve them as they served us.”

-Steven Shaver, Community Corrections

Regardless of the financial benefits, the VTC has saved lives, helped families and made Walker County a better, safer place to live, Shaver said.  “The program has helped members of this community better their lives by repairing family bonds.” He added that it also helps veterans find employment and learn how to deal with issues.

He explained that some veterans returning from active duty are often unable to cope with civilian life. Many of them also suffer from PTSD and lack awareness of mental health programs to manage the disorder. Because of these mental and physical disabilities, they often abuse prescription medication or they attempt to self-medicate with various substances.

“Military life can be very traumatic, and it is our responsibility to help the men and women who serve our country to cope with the issues associated with the time they spent in the military and the horrors of war they experienced.”

-Steven Shaver, Community Corrections

Participants of the VTC can either be ordered to participate by a judge or they voluntarily apply to it. Regardless of how they enter, successful graduates leave with control over their lives and their addictions.

“It doesn’t matter who it is who comes into the Veterans Court. It is our responsibility to give them the tools to deal with their issues and help them become a productive member of society,” Shaver said.

According to Judge Allred, the two keys to success are “remaining humble” and following principles that rely on accountability.

Those who fail to comply with the strict rules receive sanctions according to the violation. They are also tracked for three years following graduation.

Participants are involved for a minimum of 18 months but can remain longer until they are able to complete all of the graduation requirements. These requirements include remaining substance free, obtaining a GED if they did not have one upon entering the program, attending regular counseling sessions, attending self- help classes and completing volunteer hours.

They must also pay off all court costs and any restitution before graduating. Every year, the participants pay more than $100,000 for the services provided.

Graduation is a joyous occasion happening twice a year in June and December. The June 2017 ceremony honored seven graduates from the Drug Court program and two from the Veteran’s Court as they joined 159 previous graduates.


Judge Henry Allred

Speaking at the most recent ceremony, Judge Allred said the biggest reward is seeing people succeed as they learn how to deal with negative issues and regain the trust of family and friends.

“The program has helped members of this community better their lives by repairing family bonds.”

-Steven Shaver, Community Corrections

Shaver said the future of the program depends on community support. “Helping the ones who really need help requires you to get your hands dirty, but it is also the most rewarding.”

Sadly, he said, there will be a need to expand the program as veterans “return home with more and more issues.” He added, “We will need to be ready to serve them as they served us.”

-Written by Kimberly Oliveira, 2016-17 JOIP Intern