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A Fort Worth Judge, Who's A Veteran, Runs A Veterans Court

Doualy Xaykaothao
Judge Brent A. Carr, County Criminal Court #9, started the Veterans Court Diversion Program five years ago.

This story is the second in KERA's series on veterans, part of the public media initiative "Veterans Coming Home."

In Tarrant County's Criminal Court No. 9, Fort Worth Judge Brent Carr runs what's known as the “veterans court.”

Servicemen and women who commit lower-level criminal offenses can enter a rehabilitation program to have their case dismissed and later expunged.

Interview Highlights: Judge Brent Carr…

…on being a veteran, having two sons in the Army, and understanding veterans post-deployment:

“When I read the reports of what these people went through, these are just incredibly profound stories of terror, of harm, of explosions, of limbs flying. And it does take a toll. I see it in many of the people who come through my court. I hear the stories my sons tell me. So what this program does, it basically says 'OK Mr. and Ms. Veteran, we’re not here to say this is a free pass, I mean, there are lines society expects you to fall between. But because of your service we’re going to give you an opportunity, but you’re going to have to carry the pack on your shoulder. We’re going to put you into the right direction. We’re going to give you the resources to be successful. If you finish this program, then you will have earned the right to have your good name restored. You will have earned the right to go and apply for a job, and truthfully say on your questionnaire that you’ve never, even though you were arrested, you can literally say that you weren’t, because that’s what the law says you can say. It basically wipes out the whole thing, and you get a reset.'”

…on why the focus on vets…

“None of us would be sitting here in my office today, having this conversation, to some degree, if we weren’t able to keep forces of evil at bay. And that’s what our military does. They fight the war over there so we don’t have to. I don’t want Afghanistan in my backyard. And we’re going to give you this opportunity, but you’re the one who has to prove that you’re worthy. It’s a one-time deal. You get to be in the program one time. We’re going to try to right the ship. You’ve got one chance to straighten your life out, and then go and sin no more. If you can do that, you will have all the rewards and benefits that an opportunity like this has. And if you can’t, well, it’s going to catch up to you anyway, and you’ll be back in the system. It will be much more prone to be punishment-oriented, and no longer forgiveness oriented.”

…on having an 87 percent success-completion rate in his diversion program…

“I really take a lot of personal satisfaction, and I know my staff does, in seeing people dig themselves out of a dilemma and go on to live successful, meaningful lives. All these programs, I’m very comfortable with the success rate that we have. And I’m very proud of the veterans program in particular because I would say no less than six other counties in the state of Texas have modeled their programs off of the way we do business here. And so far, we’ve admitted 133 people to our program. We’ve graduated more than 80. Less than five have re-offended, so I’m absolutely committed to the proposition that this is the way to go.” 

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.