Edmonds Military Wire: Is the U.S. military boot camp for today’s criminal?

By Michael Schindler

“Jail or Sail?” That was the question we Navy guys used to think some of shipmates were asked prior to joining the world’s greatest fleet of ships. Some of these guys were pretty rough, but at the end of the day, they performed valiantly and were dependable. Unfortunately, it seems there is a trend that our service members from all branches, not just the Navy, are choosing a life of crime AFTER they get out.

 Is this a growing trend?

A U.S. News article featured on MSNBC.com stated, “The inability to leave the battlefield behind is landing growing numbers of vets behind bars, a problem that is leading law enforcement agencies around the country to look for new ways of assimilating the current wave of spiritually battered warriors.”

I’m glad it’s only the “spiritually battered warriors.” Those of you who aren’t spiritually battered can breathe a sigh of relief.

The article goes on to share that, “Most veterans behind bars are there because of violence or drug- related offenses,” this according to Sunny Schwartz, the program administrator for San Francisco County Jail’s COVER Project, which is short for: Community of Veterans Engaged in Restoration . In 2004, the most recent data available, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 57 percent of veterans in state prisons were serving time for violent offenses, with 22 percent doing time for drug-related offenses.

So what’s being done on a national basis? The Veterans Treatment Court; and I’m proud to say Seattle is participating.

The Veterans Treatment Court  is a tried and tested model for putting today’s veteran who has committed an offense back on the path of being a positive asset to our communities.

The model requires regular court appearances (a biweekly minimum in the early phases of the program), as well as mandatory attendance at treatment sessions and frequent and random testing for substance use (drug and/or alcohol).

Veterans respond favorably to this structured environment given their past experiences in the Armed Forces. However, a few will struggle and it is exactly those veterans who need a Veterans Treatment Court program the most.

I met with Donald Lachman, who is part of the WDVA’s Special Assignments and oversees our incarcerated veterans programs as well as with Mark San Souci, Regional Liaison for Military Families, and both agree that without this structure, these veterans will re-offend and remain in the criminal justice system.

The Veterans Treatment Court is able to ensure they meet their obligations to themselves, the court, and their community.
So in times of economic downturn and cries to shrink budgets, this is one area I’m gladly willing to support.

After all, I’d rather we shrink the trend than the budget when it comes to crime.

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include  “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.”  He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

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