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Veterans in Prison and Jail

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 4:30 P.M. EST                BJS
TUESDAY, JANUARY 18, 2000                  202/307-0784 

     WASHINGTON, D.C.   Male military veterans are
incarcerated in the nation's prisons and jails at less
than half the rate of non-veterans, the Justice
Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced
today.  In a new study BJS found that there were 937
incarcerated adult male veterans per 100,000 U.S. veteran
residents in 1998, compared to 1,971 per 100,000 among
adult male non-veterans.  Males make up 95 percent of the
U.S. veteran population. 
     Between 1985 and 1998 the number of veterans in the
U.S. population dropped from 28 million to almost 25
million.  The number of veterans in prisons or jails
increased by 46 percent, while the number of incarcerated
non-veterans rose by 172 percent.
     At the end of 1998 there were an estimated 225,700
veterans in the nation's prisons and jails.  About 13
percent of state prison inmates, 15 percent of federal
inmates and 12 percent of local jail inmates reported
having served in the U.S. armed forces.
     These data are based on personal interviews with
nationally representative samples of prison and jail
inmates during which they provided information about
their military service and  criminal and personal
backgrounds.  The BJS study also found that:
    --Fifty percent of these incarcerated veterans had
served during a period of wartime 35 percent were
Vietnam-era veterans and 12 percent were Gulf War-era
veterans.  Twenty percent had seen combat during their
military service. 
    --Veterans were more likely to be in a state prison
for a violent offense (55 percent) but were less likely
to be serving a sentence for a drug law violation (14
percent) than the non-veteran inmate population (46
percent and 22 percent respectively).
    --About 35 percent of the veterans in state prisons
had been convicted of homicide or sexual assault,
compared to 20 percent of the non-veterans.
    --Thirty percent of the veterans in state prisons
were first-time offenders, compared to 23 percent of
non-veterans.  Thirty-seven percent of veteran inmates
and 44 percent of non-veterans had three or more prior
sentences to probation or incarceration. 
    --Among violent state prisoners, the average sentence
of veterans was 50 months longer than the average of
    --About 70 percent of the veterans, compared to 54
percent of other state prisoners had been working
full-time before their arrest.
    --Among state prisoners 12 percent of the veterans
and 10 percent of the non-veterans said they had been
homeless at some time during the year before their
    Veterans (45 percent) were less likely than other
state prisoners (58 percent) to report having used drugs
in the month before their offense and less likely to
report being under the influence of drugs when committing
their offenses (26 percent, compared to 34 percent).
     About a third of the veterans in state prisons and
local jails had a history of alcohol dependence. 
Fifty-nine percent reported having driven while drunk.
     Since their admission, veterans in state prisons
reported similar levels of substance abuse program
participation (34 percent) as non-veterans (32 percent). 
Twelve percent of the veterans had received anti-drug
abuse professional treatment or counseling since
admission, 29 percent had taken part in a self-help group
or education program.
     Veterans who had not been honorably discharged from
service accounted for 17 percent of the veterans in state
prisons, 15 percent of the veterans in federal prisons
and 14 percent of the veterans in local jails.  They
reported more serious criminal and substance abuse
histories than other incarcerated veterans.
     Combat veterans had less serious criminal histories,
as well as lower reports of prior alcohol and drug abuse
than other veterans in state prisons.  But combat
veterans in state prisons  had rates of mental illness
similar to those of other veterans (22 percent,
compared to 19 percent).
     The report defines a veteran as any person who has
served in the United States armed forces regardless of
the type of discharge. 
     The special report, "Veterans in Prison or Jail"
(NCJ-178888), was written by BJS policy  analyst
Christopher J. Mumola.  Single copies may  be obtained
from the BJS fax-on-demand system by dialing
301/519-5550, listening to the complete menu
and  selecting document number 187 Or call the BJS
clearinghouse number: 1-800-732-3277.  Fax orders for
mail delivery to 410/792-4358.  The BJS Internet site is:
     Additional criminal justice materials can be
obtained from the Office of Justice
Programs homepage at:

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BJS00014 (I)
After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354
Date Published: January 18, 2000