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Commission To Study Why So Many Veterans End Up In Jail, Prison



One third of veterans report having been arrested and booked into jail at least once, compared to fewer than one fifth of civilians. There are more than 181,500 veterans in U.S. prisons and jails, reports the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).


Nearly eight percent of those in state prisons and more than five percent of federal inmates were veterans. There are more veterans imprisoned in the U.S. than there are total prisoners in all but 14 other countries, but their numbers represent only one percent of the veteran population.


CCJ has started a commission to study why so many veterans end up in jail and prison and recommend for evidence-based policy changes.


Chaired by former U.S. Defense Secretary and U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), the nonpartisan Veterans Justice Commission includes former defense secretary and White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, a former Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, two formerly incarcerated veterans, and other military, veterans, and criminal justice leaders.


During the next two years, the 15-member panel will conduct research and gather testimony to assess the extent and nature of veterans’ involvement in the criminal justice system, and risk factors that drive it, the adequacy of assistance for veterans as they reenter civilian life, what strategies could prevent justice-system involvement, and the effectiveness of the justice system response when veterans break the law.

“Criminal justice reform has received significant bipartisan attention in recent years, but the issue of how the system manages the men and women who have served our country has been almost totally absent from the national conversation,” said Hagel, adding that "Service-related trauma and other legacies of deployment

push too many veterans on a path toward incarceration. We can and must do more to understand and interrupt that trajectory.”


Most of the 200,000 active-duty service members who leave the armed forces each year transition successfully. Others struggle with mental health challenges, substance abuse, homelessness, and criminality.


CCJ says the reasons underlying veterans’ justice-system involvement range from combat-related risk factors to “bad-paper” discharges that bar VA benefits such as access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, ineffective procedures to identify veterans on arrest, and inconsistent diversion mechanisms.


Once in the justice system, many veterans do not receive targeted support to address their conditions, reducing the likelihood of successful reentry.


The commission will be directed by Army Col. Jim Seward, an Afghanistan veteran who led

development of criminal and juvenile justice reforms as general counsel for South Dakota

Gov. Dennis Daugaard.


CCJ trustee Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff, is senior adviser to the commission.


Other members are Chief Justice Michael Boggs, Supreme Court of Georgia, Carla Bugg of the Recovery Organization of Support Specialists, Andrea Finlay of the Veterans Administration Center for Innovation to Implementation, Pelicia Hall of ViaPath Technologies; former Commissioner, Mississippi Department of Corrections, Greg Hamilton, Chief Customer Officer, CIVICTEC; and retired Sheriff, Travis County, Tx., Maj. Gen. Mark Inch, United States Army (ret.); former director, Federal Bureau of Prisons;

former Secretary of Corrections, Florida;


Retired Sgt. Maj. Alford McMichael, United States Marine Corps (ret.); Gen. Maryanne Miller, United States Air Force (ret.); Justice Eileen Moore, Fourth District Court of Appeal, CA; Army Nurse Corps, U.S. Army, Master Chief Petty Officer Vincent W. Patton III, Senior Vice President for Leadership Development, NewDay USA; United States Coast Guard (ret.);  Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas, Chief Executive Officer, Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas; U.S. Marine Corps (ret.); Ronald Self, Director, Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out; and Dr. Jo Sornborger of Operation Mend, UCLA Health.


Support for the commission comes from the National Football League, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Southern Company Foundation, T. Denny Sanford, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, and the Wilf Family Foundations as well as #StartSmall, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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