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BJS Releases Statistics on Vets in Prison in 2004

Veterans were about half as likely as non-veterans to be imprisoned in 2004, but more than twice as likely to be serving time for a sex offense, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics said in a report released on May 20, 2007. Veterans were also more likely to have been imprisoned for a violent crime, according to the report.

Nearly 1 in 4 veterans in state prison were convicted of a sex offense, compared to 1 in 10 non-veterans. Researchers had no reason for the anomaly. "We couldn't come to any definite conclusion as to why," said Margaret E. Noonan, one of the study's authors.

Even so, veterans as a group are less likely to be in prison in the first place. According to the report, veterans are imprisoned at a rate of 630 per 100,000, compared to 1,390 per 100,000 for non-veterans. Veterans in prison are almost exclusively male (99%).

A similar trend is reflected in military prisons, where the overall populations have dropped in recent years but sex assaults remain the most prevalent crime.

Noonan emphasized the lower overall numbers. "I don't want people to come away from this thinking veterans are crazed sex offenders," Noonan said. "I want them to understand that veterans are less likely to be in prison in the first place."

Veteran prisoners tended to be older, more educated, and more likely to have committed a violent crime or a crime against women and children, the study found. Veterans also had shorter criminal records, were more likely to be first time offenders, and reported more mental health problems. The study also reported that veterans were less likely to have used drugs.

Many of the report's findings can be explained by the "aging out phenomenon," a sociological premise that asserts persons are generally less likely to commit crimes as they grow older.

Crimes tend to decrease with age, so older prisoners are more likely to be serving long sentences, said Colby College sociologist Alec Campbell. Veterans on average are older than other prisoners, Campbell said, so it isn't surprising they are more likely to be imprisoned for violent crimes, which carry longer sentences. "I think that would go away if you controlled for age" in the study, Campbell said.

Notably, the number of veterans in prison has declined, while the overall prison population has continued to rise. Of the more than 2 million U.S. prisoners in 2004, roughly 140,000 were veterans. That figure is down from 153,000 in 2000. The report, Veterans in State and Federal Prison, 2004 (NCJ 217199), is on PLN's website.

Additional Sources: USA Today, Associated Press

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