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Restorative justice for veterans: The San Francisco Sheriff 's Department's Community of Veterans Engaged in Restoration (COVER)

Aug 22, 2012

from the article by Sunny Schwartz and Leslie Levitas:

....Veterans represent a rapidly growing segment of the jail population whose characteristics mirror those of the general jail population and include histories of substance abuse, inconsistent work histories and challenges related to maintaining family relationships. 

Like most prisoners, they receive few services while incarcerated to address the myriad of health, mental health, and psychosocial issues that contribute to their incarceration and pose challenges upon release. The military discharge status of most justice-involved vets—less than honorable—makes them ineligible for many of the benefits and services offered by the Veterans Administration (VA).

The National Service on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports from both 2004 and 2005 note that veterans have higher rates of cooccurring serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders than non-veterans. A 2000 Bureau of Justice Statistics report found that 81 percent of all justice-involved veterans had a substance abuse problem prior to incarceration. Thirty-five percent were identified as suffering from alcohol dependency, 23 percent were homeless at some point in the prior year and 25 percent were identified as mentally ill.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2004 more than half (57 percent) of veterans in California prisons were serving time for violent offenses. Yet an audit report concerning the California State Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to address the needs of California veterans points out the paucity of state programs and collaborations.

....In developing COVER, SFSD leadership recognized that, as a society, we train military personnel to fight and even kill, but we do not provide the much-needed support for them to return home in a safe and healthy way, which will enable them to thrive in civilian life. The very conditioning that enables them to serve and protect our country often results in difficulty re-socializing upon return from deployment. 

Drug use, domestic violence, and mental health issues become the pathways that lead many veterans into the criminal justice system. COVER provides these individuals with in-jail and post-release exposure to the concepts of restorative justice as a path toward healing themselves, their victims and their communities.

Citations omitted.

Read the whole article.

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