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November 18, 2013

Are special jail facilities for veterans (and other special populations) key to reducing recidivism?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable Los Angeles Times article headlined "Separate jail facilities seek to cut recidivism rates among veterans." Here are excerpts:

The N-Module-3 housing wing at the San Diego County Jail was recently repainted red, white and blue.  Brightly colored paintings now hang on the walls: one of the Statue of Liberty, another of the U.S. flag, and one of a screaming eagle landing with talons outstretched.  Hanging from the ceiling are the service flags of U.S. military branches and the POW/MIA flag.

The paintings and the flags are key to a program begun this month that aims to reduce recidivism among veterans who have slipped into the criminal justice system after leaving the structured world of military service.

Thirty-two veterans serving sentences or awaiting trial have volunteered to live in the module separate from the other prisoners and participate in classes meant to increase their chances of making a law-abiding return to civilian life.  "We're all dedicated to making this work, nobody wants to go back," said Jeremy Thomas, 22, who served with the Marines in Afghanistan and lost his left hand when a roadside bomb exploded.

Each of the veterans has agreed to take classes Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to assist with problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management, substance abuse, parenting and other issues.  "We hope that by putting them together we can rekindle that esprit de corps they had when they were serving their country," said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, whose department runs the jails. "It's a great population to work with."

The program was spurred both by a sense of obligation toward the veterans and also an increased need to reduce recidivism to accommodate the state's prison realignment program that threatens to overwhelm the capacity of local jails.  "We've got to do things differently," Gore said....

Nationwide, a small but growing number of jails have housing and programs specifically targeting veterans, an effort that the VA encourages and supports by forming partnerships with local law enforcement.  "Being treated as a veteran reminds them of a time when their lives made sense and they deserved the respect of others," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general, told a recent convention of the American Correctional Assn.

An estimated 1 in 9 prisoners in the U.S. is a military veteran, according to the Department of Justice.  But only 1 in 6 is being helped by the VA with the challenge of resuming life after incarceration, said Shinseki, who has vowed to get more help for those veterans.

The California prison system does not house veterans separately from other prisoners but does encourage formation of veterans-only discussion groups at its 34 institutions, a spokesman said.  VA "reentry specialists" regularly meet with prisoners on the verge of being released to tell them of benefits and therapy programs.

In Los Angeles County, where the Sheriff's Department runs the largest jail system in the country, 291 prisoners are housed in veteran-only dorms where they participate in programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and classes in art, computers and relationship counseling.

One of the oldest and most successful of the veterans-behind-bars programs is run by the San Francisco Sheriff's Department at its jail in San Bruno. Begun in 2010, the San Francisco program houses 48 veterans in a separate "pod" where they can receive help from specialists from the VA and the Bay Area nonprofit group Swords to Plowshares....

Most of the jail deputies are volunteers who preferred working with the veterans. "In here, the staff is totally different than out there," said inmate Kimbra Kelley, 49, a former Marine.

There are incentives for inmates to participate, seemingly small to outsiders but very large in the life of the incarcerated: pillows, more television time, more time in the exercise yard, extra mattresses, an extra visit each week from family members, access to a vending machine and, soon, a microwave oven. "This is the future, gentlemen: incentive housing," sheriff's Lt. Steven Wicklander told the inmates during a visit this month.

If any of the 32 veterans quits attending the classes and stays in his cell, he can be returned to general population. There's a waiting list among the 270 veterans in county custody to transfer to N-Module-3.  "We were given an opportunity, and we're going to hold on to it for dear life," said Dana Mulvany, 42, who served in the Navy.

November 18, 2013 at 09:55 AM | Permalink


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Conspicuously missing is any data indicating that this actually works (although it would surprise me if you were to pick the 30 most motivated inmates out of any population of300 and work on them with this level of effort that you did not get much better results than the criminal justice system as a whole). Whether this particular population is worth that amount of effort while others are not is an entirely different question.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Nov 18, 2013 10:17:35 AM

Prof. B.,

I am not sure what you mean by "and other special populations" in the title of the post but if it is to imply that a program like this which works with veterans could also work with diaper snipers, drug dealers, etc., I doubt it.

Veterans have a big advantage. They have accomplished something in their lives to be proud of, which cannot be said of other "special populations." Veterans know what it is like to have discipline, even if they lost it.

It is my experience that they are already the best "special population" (least troublesome)of inmate. If this program works, I doubt it could be copied successfully to many other groups.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Nov 18, 2013 3:13:14 PM

"They have accomplished something in their lives to be proud of"

By which you mean murder under the color of law.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 18, 2013 4:46:46 PM

TarlsQtr1: How about the deeply religious and/or the elderly and/or female offenders with college degrees as just a few other possible special populations worth special post-sentencing attention and resources? The idea here is to focus on offender characteristics, not crime labels, in organizing possibly effective inventions.

more broadly, given that statistics suggest that 10%+ of the prison population is made up of veterans, I am certain some veterans are among the "diaper snipers, drug dealers, etc.," that you disparage here. I am unsure if you think these folks are redemable becase of their past service or not worthy of the energy because of the crime they committed.

Posted by: Doug B. | Nov 18, 2013 5:21:15 PM

In Vietnam, the opiate addiction rate was 40% of troops. Upon return, it dropped to the baseline USA rate of 2%. In a study comparing the 2% who became addicts in the addiction limiting environment of the USA, the veteran addicts were close in personal features and family backgrounds to the other addicts far more than they were to other veterans. So a veteran criminal or addict is the same as a non-veteran one.

The whole veteran privileging is a thinly veiled criticism of George Bush's wars. They imply, Bush did this, it is not the vet's fault.

I view veteran status as an aggravating factor. These are trained killers, more capable of devastating, professional violence than any ghetto gangbanger. They are capable of great discipline. They took the skills they learned at tax payer expense, including character growth skills, and turned them into criminality and addiction. The hammer should come down on the left wing privileged walking pretext.

This mitigating factor is in a long list of mitigating factors from the Twilight Zone. All lawyer invented mitigating factors are actually highly aggravating factors in very dangerous, unreachable, relentless, irrational, non-negotiable ultra-violent offenders. Now, we are privileging trained warriors as handicapped and disabled. They survived Afghanistan, the big city is too hard for them, the lawyer is saying.

Prof. Berman has never addressed the super dangerousness of all defendants with lawyer mitigating factors, starting with the first from 1844, the insane.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 18, 2013 8:11:27 PM

Prof B stated: "How about the deeply religious and/or the elderly and/or female offenders with college degrees as just a few other possible special populations worth special post-sentencing attention and resources?"

And what experience do you have, either academic or first-hand, that the "deeply religious" etc. are a better class of inmate than any other? For instance, I would state that the "deeply religious" were the second biggest problem population in prison (behind the gang thugs), as it was often a facade (among many "Christians") or a militant variety (Muslims).

You stated: "The idea here is to focus on offender characteristics, not crime labels, in organizing possibly effective inventions."

I did "focus on characteristics" in stating that those of veterans are generally unmatched by other groups.

You stated: "more broadly, given that statistics suggest that 10%+ of the prison population is made up of veterans, I am certain some veterans are among the "diaper snipers, drug dealers, etc.," that you disparage here."

Of course. However, veterans have some type of anchor into the world of discipline that your 22 year old gangbanger does not. At least the veteran knows what it is like to live a disciplined life. As far as my use of terms, I do not apologize for living in the real world where you are what you are. A "diaper sniper" is a diaper sniper (even if he is a veteran) and I do not see much reason to use a euphemism on a website of adults.

You stated: "I am unsure if you think these folks are redemable becase of their past service or not worthy of the energy because of the crime they committed."

Well, one of us spent 11+ years on the ground actually trying to redeem these people and the other safely lecturing to others in the world of theory and academia. Perhaps we should wonder about whether you think they are "worthy of the energy" beyond talking about them.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Nov 19, 2013 11:29:25 AM

Daniel stated: "By which you mean murder under the color of law."

You do realize that your statement is logically incoherent, correct?

If a killing is legal, it is not murder. If it is murder, it is not legal.

You may also be surprised to learn that most veterans have never "murdered" or even "killed" anyone. Not everyone is in the infantry, you know.

Thanks for letting the veil drop, though. Do you have a VFW or Legion Post near you where you can go spit on veterans? Nah, too dangerous for a weasel unless you can get muscles by acting in a group. The cowardly type enjoy laughing at Wounded Warriors commercials, which I suspect is more your style.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Nov 19, 2013 12:36:03 PM

TarlsQtr1 --

One week after Veterans Day, Daniel spits on our soldiers as "murderers under the color of law."

Far out. I am prouder than ever that Daniel recently called me insane. Condemnation from Daniel is better than endorsement from a normal person.

I also notice than not a single one of the usual liberal commenters on this board has a word of reproach for him. My, my.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 20, 2013 9:44:29 AM


Not only are they silent but they post nonsense like this in other threads (AnonymousOne): " I have expressed the view that much discourse about "retribution" masks a baser, subconscious phenomenon--there are neuropsychological reasons why revenge feels so good, and that is why retribution..."

I wonder why they never investigate the "baser, subconscious phenomenon" and "neuropsychological reasons" for posting the complete BS that Daniel enlightened us with.

It takes a special kind of dumb to believe that a person who feels an animal abuser should do time shows signs of mental illness but calling veterans murderers is AOK.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Nov 20, 2013 11:11:42 AM

TarlsQtr1 & Bill Otis

I am a veteran of the Vietnam era and I'd be shocked to learn that either one of you flag waving patriotic paper tigers ever even served during peacetime let alone came close to an armed conflict. Daniel has his opinions and he's welcome to them just like you but don't try to come off as some kind of sanctimonious super patriot because I would bet more than likely both of you were probably sitting on your asses in a safe classroom somewhere during any of those conflicts. People who diss others for having an opposing opinion on the military and then wrap themselves in the flag or no better than the people who dodged the draft when there was one.

Posted by: a real vet | Nov 20, 2013 8:27:47 PM

A real vet,

Stripping all of the irrelevancies, ad hominems, and red herrings out of your post, it comes down to a single question.

Are you and all of those who served in our military since 1776 murderers?

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Nov 21, 2013 11:07:23 AM

Being vet I'm not stupid enough to take it personal, the man has his opinions and knowing I, among many others, served to give him the ability to feel that way doesn't bother me one iota. In fact, I'd have to say the same about your opinions. I'm more concerned with individuals as yourself who like to try and impose their morality and beliefs on others using the subtle guise of rightful legalities.

Posted by: a real vet | Nov 21, 2013 8:30:12 PM

A real vet,

What you appear to be saying is that there is no standard of right or wrong and that all opinions are equal. However, that does NOT extend to those who DO believe in such a standard, then their beliefs are an attempt to "impose morality" (I am not even sure how I could do that if I wanted).

You do realize, I hope, how logically incoherent it is to criticize me for holding another's opinion to be idiotic?

But beyond that, not all opinions are equal. Some are based on fact (lawful killing is not murder) and some are based on fiction (soldiers killing in war is murder). I believe you sense this, which is why you avoid addressing the point, that his comment was beyond absurd. I do not care if he likes veterans. If he had stated, "Women murder under the color of law" because they cook animals for dinner and he believes an animal's life is equal to a human's, I would have jumped on that as well. Perhaps, I would have been wrapping myself in "grandma's quilt"?

Words have meaning. Neither killing an animal nor a human in war is "murder." Call it a defense of the English language (I am now wrapping myself in a Webster's Dictionary). That was my point and only point. You need to see a physician before your case of relativism becomes terminal.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Nov 22, 2013 11:15:28 AM

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