Veterans Day Focus: Incarcerated Veteran Parents

On this Veteran’s Day 2018, as we honor our military veterans, it seemed appropriate to look at resources for incarcerated veterans who may have left children behind as they serve their sentences. Given the criminalization of living with addiction, mental health, and disabilities, former members of the US military often find themselves in trouble with the law. A study by RAND institute found that almost a third of people who survived combat in wars since 9/11 suffer from “invisible wounds,” such as a mental health condition or traumatic brain injury (TBI). This concern has led to the development of veteran’s courts, with the one criticism being that they are misapplied justice, as all people entering the justice system should receive similar support. A second criticism is that they are not provided to veterans who have committed violent or sexual assault crimes. Other alternative sentence models that center victims of violent crimes and provide alternatives for individuals who commit gun violence are examples of the ability to extend veterans courts beyond non-violent crimes. As this article relays, collaborative veteran courts allow the prosecutor, judge, and the veteran get support via treatment and rehabilitation, rather than focusing on prisons, punishment, and guilt. Veterans in these courts also get second chances if they miss a court date or a drug test, providing a supportive model that is more like a counselor. These types of supports provided to veterans should and can be a model extended for all people in prison.

Although we don’t have specific numbers on how many incarcerated veterans have children, we can imagine that there is significant overlap. What we do know is that the number of kids who have had a parent in jail or prison at some point is estimated to be around 5.1 million, from 2008 we know that an estimated 809,800 people in prison (over half of all state and federal inmates) had minor children, and in 2011-2012 an estimated 181,500 veterans were saving time in correctional facilities.

When parents go to prison, often their children are left behind to face economic, housing, and behavioral challenges. For veteran incarcerated parents, compensation not paid to an incarcerated Veteran may be apportioned to the Veteran's spouse, child or children, and dependent parents on the basis of individual need. Veterans are also eligible for educational support. Helping provide opportunities to rise above the common barriers many formerly incarcerated people face. In determining individual need, the Veterans Benefits Administration will include such factors as the claimant's income and living expenses, the amount of compensation available to be apportioned, the needs and living expenses of other claimants as well as any special needs, if any, of all claimants.

Overall, research has shown that these opportunities have provided for successful diversion for veterans. Therefore, these programs and benefits can serve as models of support that we should providing all people in prison. More info on the benefits veterans may be eligible for are provided U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website here:

https://www.benefits.va.gov/persona/veteran-incarcerated.asp

Riley Hewko, Esq.

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Monthly Feature

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People's Movement Western Regional Conference

Convened by All of Us or None & Legal Services for Prisoners with Children

Sunday, September 20th & Monday, September 21st

Formerly incarcerated and convicted people, family members, community and spiritual leaders, elected officials and government employees will all come together to strengthen our relationships and work towards making change through community empowerment. We invite you to Voice your opinion, learn your rights and learn what changes we can make together. All of Us or None Contact: (415)-255-7036 ext. 337 www.prisonerswithchildren.org

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