criminology

Drury criminology program is helping at-risk veterans

Alumni, faculty and students in Drury University’s criminology program are helping turn around the lives of at-risk veterans thanks to an innovative court program.

The Veterans Treatment Court in the 39th Judicial Circuit (Barry, Lawrence and Stone counties) provides substance abuse and mental health-related treatment services for veterans who have been arrested for felonies. The idea is to “wrap” services around them and help them with heavy supervision in lieu of prison time. Drug courts have been around for decades, but courts for specialized populations like veterans are a newer concept.

“We focus on high-risk, high-need offenders,” says Shawn Billings, treatment court administrator for the 39th Circuit. “The only real difference is they’re veterans.”

Billings, an alumnus and current adjunct instructor, wrote a proposal to secure a three-year federal grant worth $800,000 with help from professors Vickie Luttrell and Jana Bufkin of the Behavioral Sciences Department. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The team works closely with the Veterans Administration (VA) for service referrals.

Shawn Billings, left, and Shae Dunaway, discuss cases during a staff session of the Veterans Treatment Court. (CREDIT: Aaron J. Scott)

Shawn Billings, left, and Shae Dunaway, discuss cases during a staff session of the Veterans Treatment Court. (CREDIT: Aaron J. Scott)

“It’s a combination of a mental health court with a drug and DWI court, with the addition of a team partner in the VA,” says Judge Scott Sifferman, who oversees the docket.

Veterans often bear “invisible scars” from their service, Sifferman says, which can lead to PSTD, family strife, addiction and even homelessness. That’s why a specialized focus on this population is helpful, he says.

It’s already making an impact.

“I totally have a different outlook on life – a more positive outlook, for sure,” says Cory Dodson, a 31-year-old Army veteran who was arrested for possession of a controlled substance about a year ago.

Cory Dodson

Cory Dodson

Dodson served in Iraq in the early 2000s and says he was addicted to opiates for years after leaving the service. He credits the Veterans Treatment Court and his wife for getting his life back on track.

“Within 90 days of being in the program and being off drugs, we managed to put the money together to buy our first home,” says Dodson, also a father of five girls. “It’s been a 180. I feel like I have so much to live for now.”

Junior criminology major Shae Dunaway is the program coordinator. The full-time job provides her real-world experience in the criminal justice system before graduation. She says she wants to help remove stigmas associated with offenders who are turning their lives around. She points to participants such as Dodson as an example of someone who is helping himself with the support of others.

“The transformation is incredible and they are worth every bit of the time and money we put into them,” she says.

The 39th Circuit Veterans Treatment Court team.

The 39th Circuit Veterans Treatment Court team.

Billings says Drury’s focus on relationship building is a natural fit for criminologists who want to use the justice system to improve lives.

“Drury centers on people; that’s important,” he says. “That’s basically what I’ve based my career on for the last 20 years – serving people.”

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By Mike Brothers, director of media relations. A version of this story originally appeared in the Springfield News-Leader.

Drury’s graduate program in criminal justice is recognized as one of the best in the nation

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., June 25, 2013 — The website Masters Degree Online has recognized Drury University’s Master of Criminal Justice as one of the top 50 programs in the country.

The website said this about Drury’s program, “Drury University provides a Master of Science in Criminal Justice that is ideal for those seeking a smaller school with personalized attention. Classes are taken in the evenings and online, and the program is designed for easy access to those already working in criminal justice. Research in Criminology and Terrorism are emphasized, giving the school a well-known reputation for expertise on these subjects.”

“It is gratifying to get external recognition for the quality of Drury’s graduate program in criminal justice,” said Dr. Jana Bufkin, director of the graduate program in criminology and criminal justice. “Beyond opportunities in local and state law enforcement, corrections, and child/adolescent services; a master’s degree in criminal justice opens doors for employment in an array of federal agencies, as well as private companies. Moreover, the demand for professionals with an educational background in criminal justice will continue to grow.”

According to its website, Masters Degree Online was created to promote discussion about higher education as a whole as well as to provide information to those looking for a way to begin their graduate program.  The goal of this ranking is to help prospective and current students gain information about the many options they have for a distinctive graduate educational experience. It provides succinct but valuable information in an easy to use format, allowing those who are searching for graduate schools to view the strengths of each individual program.

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