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November 11, 2021

Making the case for criminal justice reform as a way to honor those who served on Veterans Day

Jason Pye has this potent and personal Hill commentary headlined "Veterans fought for our freedom: To return the favor, fight for criminal justice reform."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

One way veterans deal with their problems is by self-medicating through alcohol and drugs.  This wasn’t an issue in our home, but given the pain that was so apparent in my father, I understand all too well why veterans disproportionately struggle with addiction.  Alcohol and prescription or illicit drug abuse often lead to entanglements in our broken criminal justice system, and instead of healing these men and women, incarceration simply adds to their trauma.  In the criminal justice reform movement, we advocate for alternatives to incarceration for sick people — those with addiction and mental health issues who are better served with treatment, counseling and rehabilitative services. 

recent report showed 8 percent of people incarcerated at the state level, and more than 5 percent incarcerated at the federal level, are military veterans, constituting a disturbing 107,400 current or former members of America’s armed forces behind bars.  More than one in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, so it should come as no surprise that nearly 30 percent of the veterans in federal prison are there for drug convictions.

At the state level, veterans’ courts, more diversion and treatment options and expanded reentry services have led to better outcomes for many veterans. But we must do more, especially for communities of color that are sending a greater number of young people into military service.

In Congress, a bill called the EQUAL Act is stalled in the Senate after receiving a rare and overwhelming bipartisan 361-to-66 vote in the House of Representatives.  This bill would eliminate the shocking 18-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, perhaps the worst vestige of injustice in America’s drug policy.

During Military Families Appreciation Month and on Veterans Day, my hope is that we can view criminal justice, and particularly drug policy reforms, through the lens of those who have served our country.   I’ll be pushing for the EQUAL Act to honor my father, Lamar Pye, and the tens of thousands of other military veterans who suffered severe trauma, many of whom are left alone to struggle with addiction and the consequences of America’s archaic, unfair, counterproductive drug policies.  

These men and women fought for our freedoms. Now it’s time for us to fight for theirs.

Regular readers know I have often blogged about the intersection of veterans' issues and criminal justice on Veterans Day.  For example, this day has always seemed to me a good day for some focused advocacy for clemency for veterans, as I suggested in these prior posts:

Disappointingly, 10 months into his Presidency, Prez Biden has not yet granted clemency to a single person yet, so I doubt we will see him grant clemency to any veterans today.  But a recent US Sentencing Commission report (discussed here) indicates that over 10,000 veterans are serving time in federal prisons now and tens of thousands more have federal criminal records.  It is a darn shame that no Prez has had the wisdom and the courage to try to start a tradition of clemency grants to honor veterans on this special day. 

I will continue to honor this day and those who serves by highlighting issues at the intersection of military service and criminal justice, as I have in a number of prior posts: 

November 11, 2021 at 05:13 PM | Permalink


We have a very effective Veterans' Treatment Court (a kind of diversion in criminal cases) here in Lexington, Kentucky that was started by my former employer, Jon S. Larson, who is himself a Vietnam-era veteran (although her served in Korea, not in Vietnam). The single most important factor for success in a Veteran's Treatment Court program is giving the defendant a mentor/sponsor who is himself a combat veteran.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Nov 12, 2021 12:53:14 PM


I'm sure this blog goes here and and regularly refreshes.


Melissa Fitzgerald, who some might know from West Wing, is the director of Justice for Vets. https://justiceforvets.org/about/


A recent memo cited on the DOJ page regarding supporting vets has this bit:

To help veterans, servicemembers, and their families address these unique challenges, the Office for Access to Justice will consult with the Initiative and all relevant Justice Department components to identify effective ways to promote access to justice in the civil and criminal legal systems, including through medical-legal partnerships, legal assistance clinics, veterans treatment courts, and reentry programs and services.

And, yes, one area where this comes in regards vets who are in trouble with the law. A recent post here showed a dark side here regarding those involved in the 1/6 insurrection. Others deserve more support than they receive.


And, yes, reportedly Biden will continue the asinine turkey pardon thing. Maybe, when a reporter asked about it, it would have been more sensible to ask about pardons in general. I will do my part by not eating turkey at Thanksgiving.

A Veteran Day pardon tradition does sound much more sensible.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 13, 2021 11:36:15 AM

Very moving piece, Doug. Thanks for posting - and thanks to Jason for sharing his experience.
For those interested in the subject, here’s another: https://time.com/6232785/us-veterans-criminal-justice/

Posted by: Jenifer Warren | Nov 12, 2022 11:32:29 AM

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