Only 1% of our population serves in the armed forces, I believe. Yet veterans make up 9% or prisoners in America. I don't think the young men and women who enlist are necessarily more prone to commit crimes than the rest of us. I think this speaks to how trauma and violence can affect people, how complex the overlap between mental health and substance abuse problems are, and how readily we exploit our labor in this country - including soldiers - and toss them aside when they lose their market value.
As I look through these articles on veterans and criminal justice, I see both explicit and implied the presumption that military service in and of itself - not one's conduct, character, or the actual crime - is what entitles vets to a "break" in the justice system. Lots of people should get a break.
A new pilot program called the Veterans Project, announced on Tuesday and set to begin in Queens, Brooklyn and Nassau County, aims to help keep them out of prison.
“If a veteran finds themselves in the criminal justice system, they deserve a helping hand,” Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the State Court of Appeals, said at a news conference to announce the project at the Veterans Affairs Hospital on East 23rd Street.
The project — a collaboration between county prosecutors, the Department of Veterans Affairs and health care providers — will try to divert veterans who commit nonviolent crimes away from prison while helping them with underlying issues like homelessness or substance abuse.
Bruce Burnham, 63, a
“I had a cousin that ended up serving time,” Mr. Burnham said, adding that many of his former comrades got into trouble when they returned home. “Now this is a positive step forward,” he said.
As part of the project, defendants with military service will be identified as they soon as enter the justice system. They will be helped to get treatment and support services to address problems that many of them face, like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those who complete the program may have their charges dismissed or reduced, or win a reduction in their sentences.
According to the Center for Mental Health Services National Gains Center, veterans account for 9 out of every 100 prisoners in
Prosecutors say many veterans get into legal trouble when they use alcohol or drugs to try to cope with traumatic memories. Sometimes the charge is drug possession or theft, but the underlying problem can often be addiction.
Last year a RAND Corporation study said that nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans — 300,000 in all — reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, but that only slightly more than half seek treatment.
On Tuesday, Charles J. Hynes, the
While the project received wide support, some legal advocates said that its scope is too limited.
JoAnne Page, the chief executive officer of the Fortune Society, which promotes prisoners’ re-entry into society, said that the move to keep defendants from prison should not be limited to veterans who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes.
In some cases, she said, violent offenders “can be supervised efficiently in the community without posing community risk.”
Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, added that despite their unique status, veterans should not be the only ones to profit from this sort of program.
“A case can also be made — given that treatment is more effective and less expensive — that these kinds of supports be made available to a broader cross section of the population,” he said.