Christina Brooks - Veterans Behavioral Health, Elton Long Fassihi Fellow
As a United States Army Veteran, this is a question, which perplexes me. In the most recent Special Report from the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics (2015), shows an estimated 181,500 Veterans, total 8% of all inmates in state and federal prison and local jails were serving time in correctional facilities during 2011-2012. The report also indicated when compared to civilian offenders, Justice-Involved Veterans have been incarcerated for offenses that are more violent in nature and were more likely to report having been told they have a mental disorder. As well, specific to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, nearly 11,000 Veteran offenders were incarcerated in Texas in 2014.
Much work has been accomplished through specialty courts, such as the Mental Health Courts and Veterans Treatment Courts; designed with the purpose of diverting individuals with mental health needs out of jail. In Harris and surrounding counties, there are three specialty courts specifically designed for Veterans. The Veterans Behavioral Health Initiative supports these courts by providing peer mentorship and volunteer opportunities.
Through a generous donation from Dr. Theresa Fassihi in honor of her uncle Elton Long, a Navy Veteran, I am able to support Justice-Involved Veterans who are currently incarcerated with coordinated visits to Pam Lychner State Jail in Humble, Texas. During these visits, I interview Veterans to identify their reintegration needs, as well as identify gaps in services. So far, some of the most salient needs identified thus far have been housing and employment. In order to meet these needs, myself and the Veteran Peer Services Coordinator, work to coordinate referrals to our community partners to get the Veterans set up for success upon their release. To date our efforts have reached over 103 Veterans!
To answer the large question of how could this many Veterans be in the criminal justice system, I am pursuing a degree in Clinical Psychology and focusing my research, clarifying if the military is prone to accepting criminals or are our Veterans faced with extenuating circumstances which influence them to commit crimes? While reviewing empirical research focusing on Justice-Involved Veterans, I was unable to find an answer to these questions. This led to the development of a research project aimed at identifying mental health concerns and risk factors among Justice-Involved Veterans to inform treatment and recidivism prevention across correctional and rehabilitative settings. As my graduate career continues, my research and examinations remain a work in progress. Upon completion I will be much closer to understanding and answering why so many of our nation’s Veterans end up in the criminal justice system.
In the Houston area, if you would like to get involved and volunteer your time with incarcerated Veterans, please contact MVPN Peer Services Coordinator Valerie James at (832)-212-5255.