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Helping veterans behind bars: Council accepts report outlining options for incarcerated veterans

Summary

Providing options to those who served their country

Story

Last year, the Metropolitan King County Council asked for the County Executive to review the options the County had available to assist men and women who had served in the armed forces and wound up in County detention facilities. At the Council’s Feb. 23 meeting, the Council unanimously adopted a motion accepting the completed report.

“We can’t just walk away from the men and woman who put their lives on the line to defend our nation” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, lead sponsor of the original motion. “My hope is that these efforts not only reduce recidivism but also help to address the specific needs many of our veterans have developed stemming from their time in places like Iraq or Afghanistan.”

“Research has shown that our returning veterans have some specific needs that we need to serve,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert, chair of the Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee. “One way we have done this is by establishing specialized veteran courts to continue to meet their needs.”

King County is home to more than one hundred twenty-seven thousand current or former members of the United States military, reserves, and National Guard who have served active duty and Veterans represents almost seven percent of the total county population.

Many veterans suffer from an array of mental wounds such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD affects all aspects of life and is a serious issue that affects veterans. While these men and women are incarcerated the County is in a unique position to be able to offer programs that can begin to address their needs and help to stop the cycle of incarceration.

Prior to the work on this motion, the department did not have a formally established program serving incarcerated veterans and this report found ways to better identify veterans in detention and serve their needs. As a result of the work on the report, the department has already implemented a series of changes that will allow for dedicated Veteran’s access to programs and better coordination of all the agencies that serve veterans who might be in jail.

“By identifying military veterans who are in the criminal justice system and connecting them with the services they have earned, we can better help them to get back on track and succeed,” said Executive Dow Constantine.

The report also studied ways of improving Veterans data as the motion called for and according to the report, the review of best or promising practices for collecting veteran status data in jails suggests that DAJD’s current practice of asking the question, “Are you a veteran?” may be ineffective because individuals who served in the military may misunderstand the term “veteran.”

The report recommended modifying the question to eliminate the use of the term veteran and including all components of service will increase data accuracy and identification efforts. The report noted that a combined approach is optimal as incarcerated veterans may be reluctant to self-identify because they feel ashamed of their criminal justice involvement.

Other work stemming from the Motion and subsequent report already underway in the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention include:

• Ensuring incarcerated veterans have access to all services provided by veterans justice partners and linkage to veterans services outlined in the Regional Veterans Initiative;
• Providing criminal justice partners with training on the impact of incarceration on veterans;
• Providing priority access and streamlined jail clearance for veterans justice partners through DAJD/DCHS partnership; and,
• Initiation of discussions with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission on feasibility of inclusion of veteran-specific information in Corrections Officer Academy Training.

In all, the report made critical recommendations in the following areas: data gathering; incarcerated veterans access to programs; establishing a dedicated veteran’s housing pilot project; and, specialized training on veteran’s issues for jail staff.


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