A national Veterans Justice Commission released a policy roadmap encouraging states and the federal government to expand alternatives to prosecution and incarceration for justice-involved veterans. The think tank Council on Criminal Justice announced the commission’s report, which emphasizes how military service affects criminal behavior. Veterans encountering the criminal justice system confront a patchwork of interventions designed to help them, but these programs vary substantially across jurisdictions, and many of those in need fall through the cracks. Roughly 200,000 active-duty service members leave the armed forces each year, and many struggle with mental health and substance use disorders, the effects of traumatic brain injury, homelessness, and criminality. One in three veterans report having been arrested and booked into jail at least once. Veterans who are incarcerated lose access to health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA.} The suicide rate for veterans is approximately 1.5 times higher than the rate among the general population, and it’s especially high for veterans leaving incarceration.
The policy framework outlines alternative sentencing options, which include expanded use of pretrial supervision and probation in lieu of incarceration. The options are grounded in evidence-based practices used in problem-solving courts and community supervision. The commission said jurisdictions should pass laws enabling veterans whose cases are processed through such options to file for record expungement. Based on the policy framework, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in August adopted as model policy the Veterans Justice Act. This version of the framework will be shared with state legislatures as a blueprint for action. Additional recommendations targeting veterans’ transition from service to civilian life will be issued early next year.