A new report indicates that military veterans are far more likely to be arrested than the rest of the American public.
The preliminary report released by the Council on Criminal Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found that about one-third of veterans say they have been arrested at least once. The CCJ, citing Justice Department data from 2015, says that fewer than one-fifth of all nonveterans have faced arrest.
Over 180,000 veterans are currently in U.S. prisons and jails, according to the report. The report notes that the reasons for the high number of veteran arrests are complex. The CCJ cites combat-related risk factors, discharges that bar VA benefits such as access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, ineffective procedures to identify veterans upon arrest, and inconsistent diversion mechanisms among the contributors.
Veterans who did not receive an honorable discharge “may be prevented from receiving benefits like access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment and are more likely to have interactions with the criminal justice system,” reports The Hill.
The CCJ announced that it is launching a national commission to further examine why so many military veterans end up in prison. The Veterans Justice Commission will be chaired by former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The commission will also include former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, as well as two formerly incarcerated veterans and “other military, veteran, and criminal justice leaders.”
“We honor our veterans with parades, medals, and words of praise when they come home, but we do too little to help them manage the trauma and other lasting damage military service can inflict,” Commission director Army Col. Jim Seward, an Afghanistan veteran, said in a press release. “They deserve better. Our commissioners have the expertise, experience, and clout with policymakers across the country to advance solutions that will make a decisive difference in veterans’ lives.”
According to the Justice Department data cited in the report, incarcerated veterans were overwhelmingly male (98%), and more than two-thirds (69%) were serving time for violent crimes, compared to 57% of non-veterans in prison.
“Service-related trauma and other legacies of deployment push too many veterans on a path toward incarceration,” Hagel said. “We can and must do more to understand and interrupt that trajectory.”