Alumnus Justan Mounts ’14 works to address veteran needs as Veterans Services Director in Rowan County

The path Justan Mounts ’14 took from Lees-McRae to his current position as Veterans Services Director for Rowan County was not a straightforward one, but  each step along the way set him up for success in this position and in his latest venture of founding a veteran treatment court in the county.

Mounts graduated from Lees-McRae with a major in Criminal Justice and a minor in Human Biology, earned a master’s degree in analysis of criminal behavior, and also served in the Navy, leading him to a job at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office before he eventually landed his current position as Rowan County’s Director of Veterans Services.

“I'm in charge of this whole facility—it's called the West End Plaza—for the county. I have veteran services, the West End Plaza, and then when we get the treatment court off the ground, I'll have that too,” Mounts said. “Coming from having a Criminal Justice degree, and then a master's degree in analysis of criminal behavior, it was kind of natural for the county to task me with the treatment court.”

The county’s new veteran's treatment court─ a cognitive behavior therapy-based program that seeks to rehabilitate veterans who have committed non-violent, substance-abuse related crimes─is Mounts’ latest undertaking.

“The idea is that if you're charged for a crime that includes substance abuse, you are approached by the treatment court and selected based on a lot of criteria. You're identified by a bunch of markers by the jail, you're contacted by the treatment court, you enter into an agreement to participate in this treatment court, and the backbone is cognitive behavior therapy,” Mounts said. “Over time, you're essentially recreating neurological pathways to build more healthy responses to your environment.”

While Mounts said that some people worry the veteran’s treatment court lets people off the hook for their past offenses, his argument─and the basis of the program─is that many of these offenses are a manifestation of difficulties in other aspects of the person’s life.

“The entire ideology of the treatment court is that it operates under the assumption that substance abuse and addiction are part and parcel to other deficiencies in your life, whether that be housing, or finances, or mental health. The treatment court works to identify what those shortcomings are and empower the person to fulfill them,” Mounts said. “If you're a combat veteran the VA presumes you have PTSD. We start upon that agreement that a lot of substance abuse and homelessness is comorbid with these types of mental health issues. Those are things that we can potentially remedy, or at least give them the mechanisms to process.”

Rather than functioning on a system of retributive justice like other crime management tools, the veteran treatment court operates with a goal of rehabilitation. Instead of inflicting punishment, this program seeks to identify the root problem that led to the crime and give the offender the resources that will prevent recidivism.

According to Mounts, through this program homeless veterans can be provided with housing and set up with home loans that eventually lead to ownership, while unemployed veterans can receive assistance with finding a job, and uninsured veterans are linked to a hospital and are established with healthcare. All these address root causes of criminal behavior, greatly reducing the likelihood to offend in the first place.

“This is essentially taking bad habits and trying to replace them with good ones, while showing you that one of the biggest routes to recidivism, or repeated crime, or repeated drug use and abuse, is a lack of a support network. The court seeks to fulfill that support network. The idea is not punishment. The idea is accountability,” Mounts said. “The idea is to be firm, to be fair, to be consistent, but to be supportive. You start showing someone that there's light at the end of the tunnel.”

While Mounts has become the leader of this project, he said the idea to establish a veterans treatment court in Rowan County has been in the works for years before he took over the job. Until now, it was never the right time to start.

“Once I got tasked with it, and started visiting other treatment courts, and seeing what the theory behind it was, the necessity of it became completely obvious. This is, in my opinion, what all criminal courts should be,” Mounts said. “If we can prevent someone from ever committing another offense, then that fixes the thing that everybody thought prison was supposed to do. That's not the ideology behind incarceration. It can't be done there because you’re in a completely nonpermissive environment that is hostile, and you can't grow in a hostile environment.”

Mounts said that veterans treatment courts like the one he is heading in Rowan County are a solution to an overworked court system and are extremely effective in reducing and preventing crime. He said that there are now four or five such courts throughout the state of North Carolina, all exhibiting significantly lower recidivism rates than the national average.

Many of the values that Mounts personally holds and brings into his work at the Rowan County veterans treatment court are closely aligned to those of Lees-McRae. A strong sense of community and an acceptance of others are central to Mounts’ work, and to the identity of the college.

“I’m very careful about being judgmental about the ways that I sin and putting that in a higher caste than the way that someone else chooses to sin,” Mounts said. “Part of the idea of the treatment court is to put you in a safe environment where you understand that you've got some backup. We're not going to leave you. We're doing this together.”

By Maya JarrellSeptember 16, 2022