Criminal Justice Leaders Identify Barriers for Veterans

Representatives from the Texas criminal justice system recently gathered at Sam Houston State University to brainstorm solutions for justice-involved veterans.

This group of decision makers, invited by the Texas Veterans Commission, the Meadows Mental Health Institute and Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas, included representatives from state and local government, law enforcement, courts, prisons, jails, probation, parole and social service agencies. Together they worked using the Gains Center Sequential Intercept Model to create solutions to barriers veterans face in the criminal justice system.

The workshop led to a series of recommendations that will be presented to the Texas Legislature by the Texas Veterans Commission. Several agencies already offer funding to create veterans courts and to address the mental health needs of veterans.

“Close to 10 percent of those incarcerated are veterans and Texas is seeing the results of veterans returning home with invisible wound of war,” and Rebecca Bowden, a project manager at LEMIT. “It is vital that we develop these initiatives for our veterans and public safety.”

Among the recommendations were:

  • Training should be available at all levels of the system to better understand veterans, their needs, and resources to assist them and their families
  • Open communication is needed with the Veterans Administration to get information for and about veterans involved in the criminal justice system
  • A veteran services clearinghouse should be created to identify agencies that assist veterans and their families as well as professionals in the criminal justice field
  • Information about veterans should follow them throughout the criminal justice process to better identify programs and services

In the area of communication, including dispatch and law enforcement, standards should be developed on how to communicate with veterans and to deescalate volatile situations. Training is needed on how to access veteran services, the military culture, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and “triggers” for veterans. Due to a lack of resources in rural areas, mobile training teams should be dispatched to remote areas to teach small municipal departments and county sheriff’s offices on site. Veteran Crisis Outreach Teams should be established to find the best resources for veterans when they are booked, sent to emergency detention, or handled through non-criminal routes. Law enforcement officers also need assistance in transporting veterans to facilities outside their communities.

All counties with populations over 100,000 should have a Veterans Court, with regional Veterans Courts available for counties with larger populations. Case workers, preferably veterans, could serve as a liaison with courts and district and defense attorneys, and counties also could train volunteer peer counselors to work with veterans in the criminal justice system. Magistrates and courts could offer personal recognition bond to release veteran to Veteran Administration facilities for assessment. The group also recommends that laws should be changed to allow the Veteran Administration to provide medications for veterans during the first 30 days on incarceration. Finally, jailers at county facilities should get training on how to identify veterans at intake as part of their license training.

As noted above, a veteran services clearinghouse should be established to expedite service by providing information not only to the criminal justice system, but to families who need to find assistance for veterans. A Texas Council of Regional Veterans Court could be established by judicial administrative district to provide information on the specific services available in each area.

To aid veterans reentering the community after incarceration, planning should begin as soon as the veteran enters the criminal justice system. Veterans should be identified at every stage of the process, so that relationships can be established, and support can be built into programs. This may include special programs for veterans in prisons and state jails; veteran-specific caseloads for probation and parole; and family training and support tools. Veterans also need access to other services, such housing, transportation, medical, and veterans’ benefits. Because of the distribution of resources in the state, a veteran hotline should be created to deal with reentry issues, and rural areas should grouped in regional hubs that provide resources and services.

“The Texas Veterans Commission, Military Veterans Peer Network found this meeting to be very informative and spoke to our justice, women’s and rural initiatives,” said Erin McCann, Justice Involved Veterans Coordinator with the Texas Veterans Commission. “We look forward to future collaborations with the attendees.”

Member of The Texas State University System