How to Help Vets Behind Bars

Barbed wired fence surrounding concrete groundsBuilding skills for criminal justice workers who provide services to justice-involved veterans

Veterans represent more than 7% of the U.S. population; and likewise, of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, 7% are men and women who have served in the military. Data from the Veterans Health Administration data suggests that more than half of justice-involved veterans have either mental health diagnoses (PTSD, depression, high anxiety) or substance-use disorders. A large percentage are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Federal data shows that roughly 30% of incarcerated vets have experienced some form of homelessness – five times the national average. Our project involves building skills for those who work directly with incarcerated veterans to help them understand veterans’ involvement in the criminal justice system, as well as their needs as they prepare to re-enter the community.

The project is part of Veteran Informed Care Training on Responsivity, or VICTOR, a program of the National Institute of Corrections. Smart Policy Works will train 30 participants from among criminal justice personnel – from administrative to front-line professionals to judges – who work with justice-involved veterans, deliver core skills through three-and-a-half days of training, and evaluate participants’ retention and understanding of course materials using pre and post proficiency tests. The participants will be trained to better understand justice-involved veterans and issues related to military service so they can work more effectively with this population of inmates they deal with, and thus reduce recidivism and increase public safety.

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