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New Federal Study Shows Half of Incarcerated Veterans Have Mental Disorder

A new study released in December of 2015 by the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), for the period of 2011 to 2012, shows that although the percentage of veterans in the state and federal prison population has declined slightly, fully half have been diagnosed with some form of mental disorder.  Prisoner rights advocates have long maintained, and many correctional officials agree, that jails and prisons do not offer adequate mental health treatment to the incarcerated.

The share of prisoners who previously served our country's military peaked in the late 1970's at 24%, shortly after the close of the Vietnam War, and has declined since that time, but now holds steady at approximately 8 %. Over 60% of those diagnosed as needing treatment were in combat, more than half of the veterans serving time had three or more previous arrests, many of which were for violent offenses.

This study follows other BJS of Justice studies that have shown that over a third and as many as 50% of incarcerated prisoners suffer from some form of a mental disorder. Local law enforcement officials who operate county jails have long maintained that this is a serious problem.  Cook County, Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart, maintains that his jail, the largest county jail in the country, is his state's largest repository of people with mental disorders.

Unfortunately, although the percentage of veterans in custody has declined in past decades, there is little statistical evidence that the policies of correctional officials have had any role in that decrease, and as an older crop of veterans leaves jail, they are replaced by a newer, younger group of offenders.  The BJS study showed that, "From 2001 to 2012, veterans discharged during Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn accounted for 13% of veterans in prison and 25% of veterans in jail."

The only bright spot in the study, is that most of the incarcerated veterans, well over 60%, in jail in recent years had been told by the military that they suffered from a mental disorder. Clearly, both the military and governmental agencies have quantified and identified the problem, and it now becomes even more urgent for legislators and correctional officials on both the state and federal level to implement policies to effectively deal with it.

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