Making jail a site of services for veterans
Since 2003, roughly 250,000 service members have left the military each year. In recent decades, the rates of incarceration for veterans have gone below those of the general population. Some of the credit goes to specialized veteran courts where treatment is available as an alternative to incarceration. However, according to the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were still approximately 181,500 veterans incarcerated in jails and prisons in 2011-12. Veterans behind bars are more likely to have diagnosed mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder and are likely to be older than nonveterans in jail and prison. [Quil Lawrence / NPR]
For those veterans who are incarcerated, there is a growing trend of jails and prisons across the country designating special housing to address their specific needs. [Todd Shepherd / Washington Examiner] While still far from universal, The Associated Press reported in February that 86 prisons and jails across the country had designated veterans’ housing. The programming in these special units is instructive for what it demonstrates about the services, support, and dignity that can be offered to incarcerated people, when the resources and political will exist. [Associated Press] When describing these programs, sheriffs offices are also often explicit about the link they see between people having access to programs while incarcerated—including everything from counseling and mental health services to “integrative therapies in creative pursuits, such as art, music, theater, and writing”—and being less likely to be reincarcerated. [Scott Morgan / KETR]
In Albany, New York, the county jail was among the first nationwide to create a specialized veterans “pod.” The sheriff’s office partnered with a nonprofit, Soldier On, when creating the unit. The organization opened transitional housing near the jail. NBC News reported last year that Soldier On’s staffers are at the jail 42 hours a week, paid largely through a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grant of $225,000 a year. The services include group discussions on addiction and post-traumatic stress, psychological counseling, benefits counseling, and discharge planning.There is also access to the services of a chiropractor, paid through private donations. Residents of the pod can wear “Soldier On” T-shirts over their jail uniforms, get extra time out of their cells, and benefit from a jail program that allows participants to earn full pay. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple explained to NBC News how it differs from the typical jail experience: “It’s still jail,” Apple said. “But we want to help them let their guard down a little bit and trust us as we want to trust them.” [Tracy Connor / NBC News] Three-hundred thirty-one jailed veterans have been placed in the jail’s veterans “pod” in the three years since it was opened. Their recidivism rate is 6 percent, far below the average recidivism rate for people in jail. [Associated Press]
One Colorado program offers an example of how a program might treat vulnerabilities that, while common among veterans, are also shockingly prevalent among all incarcerated people. Traumatic brain injury has been called the “signature wound” of U.S. military service personnel serving in the post-9/11 wars. A screening of 4,100 people in jail, on probation, or assigned to drug courts in six Colorado counties revealed its prevalence among those entangled in the criminal legal system—54 percent of those screened were found to have serious brain injuries, compared with 8 percent in the general population. [Jennifer Brown / Denver Post]
Colorado’s Mindsource-Brain Injury Network now works in local jails throughout the state to identify people with a history of traumatic brain injury and teach them how to manage their cognitive deficits. One veteran incarcerated at the Boulder County jail told U.S. News & World Report that he believed that the daily mortar attacks he experienced while deployed in Iraq were what caused his TBI, leaving him constantly “kind of re-creating the war scene.” A lack of impulse control and sensory overload is typical of traumatic brain injury survivors, making the rigors and stresses of jail especially difficult to cope with. Participants in the program are also connected to case managers with the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado, who guide them through the transition after release. [Casey Leins / U.S. News & World Report] See also Our newsletter of April 23, 2018, looked at Colorado’s statewide screening of people in jail and on probation and how knowledge of traumatic brain injuries can shape their treatment.
The program also educates jail staff about the impact TBI can have on those suffering from it. In a class for Boulder County sheriff’s deputies that began in June staff learn about the prevalence of traumatic brain injury among people in jail and on probation populations and how to better identify and work with them. One deputy told U.S. News & World Report that, “A lot of (working with them) is just patience and understanding.” [Casey Leins / U.S. News & World Report]