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According to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are roughly 180,000 veterans in jail or prison in the US every year, or roughly 8% of the total population behind bars. More than three-quarters of these men and women received “an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions” from the service.
On this Veterans Day, let’s look at the ways in which correctional agencies can attempt to deal with the specific needs of incarcerated former service members in a way that makes them most likely to succeed on release.
What differentiates them from the general population?
- They are older, by between 11 years for jail and 12 years for prison
- They skew more heavily white than the general population of jails and prisons
- A larger proportion of them were incarcerated for property, drug, and DUI/DWI offences than the general population
- Roughly twice the proportion of veterans had been told at some point by a mental health professional that they had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- They are more likely to have been convicted of a violent offense
- They had fewer prior arrests, on average, than the general population
A recent study has suggested that those veterans of the recent wars who “struggle with anger and emotional outbursts of combat trauma are more than twice as likely as other veterans to be arrested for criminal misbehavior …” It is not just PTSD, but other conditions such as the nature of their upbringing, their current living arrangements, or their substance abuse history that, together, puts some veterans at risk of offending.
Incarcerating these veterans may just be a way to give them the help that they need to deal with PTSD and substance issues, in a manner that is tailored for their experience. The veterans’ pod in the San Diego County Jail is a good example of this. Incarceration gives the Veterans Administration a second chance to treat those who may have fallen through the cracks.
“’Our goal is not to end incarceration among veterans,’ Sean Clark, national coordinator for Veterans Justice Outreach at the VA. ‘What we’re trying to do is ensure that when veterans do have contact with the criminal justice system, that there are effectively off ramps, into needed treatment.’”
This VA programming behind bars is linked seamlessly to re-entry planning, including housing and continued treatment.
American Prison Data Systems, PBC can augment this training by enabling the VA and other agencies to deliver targeted programming both behind bars and post-release.