A Hero's Welcome? Exploring the Prevalence and Problems of Military Veterans in the Arrestee Population

Publication Date: 
March 2011
Michael D. White, Philip Mulvey, Andrew M. Fox, David Choate

The potential for veterans to end up in the criminal justice system as a result of physical and psychological problems that may be combat-related has generated much interest, illustrated most recently by the development of specialized veterans’ courts. However, little is known about how often veterans are arrested and incarcerated, the nature of their problems, or the extent to which their military service has contributed to their criminality. Using interview data from 2,102 arrestees booked in Maricopa County (AZ) during 2009, this paper examines the problems and prior experiences of arrested military veterans and compares veteran and non-veteran arrestees along a range of measures. Results indicate that veterans comprise 6.3% of the arrestee population, and that more than 50% of veterans report suffering from at least one combat-related problem including physical injury, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental health problems, and substance abuse. Multivariate analysis indicates that veteran arrestees differ from non-veterans on a number of key measures, most notably more frequent arrests for violent offenses and greater use of crack cocaine and opiates. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications for the potential link between military service and criminality as well as for crimi- nal justice policy and practice.

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Reports and Publications