A Washington DC based think-tank invited formerly incarcerated marine veteran Ron Self to serve on a commission, aimed at drawing attention to hardships that veterans face after serving the country.
The Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) sent the invitation on Mar 18, when it established the Veterans Justice Commission (VJC).
Studies show that during their lifetime nearly 33% of the veterans undergo arrests or bookings. The rate for civilians is about 18%. Veterans make up for almost 1 of 10 incarcerated Americans.
The CCJ says, “without reforms that target racial inequalities in the justice system, disparities likely will grow: over the next 25 years, the proportion of all veterans who are people of color is projected to rise from 25% to 40%.”
There is an ongoing problem – if a veteran receives an unfavorable discharge, he or she can be denied VA benefits.
The VJC is tasked to increase the understanding of criminal justice policy choices that effect veterans.
Figure out the nature and causes that lead veterans to prisons and jails, and then suggest practices that will reduce the need for incarceration.
Understand the systems that are currently in place to serve veterans when they get out of the military and propose ways to upgrade the systems.
All aspects of the justice system will be examined, “from arrest and diversion through prosecutions, incarceration, release, and community supervision—with a particular focus on veteran’s transition from active service to civilian life.”
The commission consists of veterans, civil rights and community advocates, as well as members of the justice system. VJC hopes to build up the political will to implement evidence-based reforms that “enhance safety, health and justice.”
Ron Self established the veteran’s narrative therapy program, Veterans Healing Veterans From the Inside Out (VHV), in 2012. He currently manages a housing unit at CTF Soledad geared to serve incarcerated veterans. Meanwhile, VHV continues its mission to serve incarcerated veterans in San Quentin.
Kevin Brinckman, 57, incarcerated since 2006, has been at San Quentin since 2015.
Brinckman is the lead clerk for Veteran’s Information Project. His job is to assist incarcerated veterans in obtaining upgrading discharge statues, VA benefits, military records, and in applying for transitional housing.
“I met Ron on the prison yard when I got here. He immediately signed me up for VHV,” Brinckman said. “I’ve admired Ron’s dedication to education himself on the plight of the incarcerated veterans and the ones caught up in the system before they came to prison.”
A poster sized photo of Self with his hand resting on the Veteran’s Wall in Washington, DC hangs in Brinckman’s office.
As to the various support available to incarcerated veterans, Self said, “If it weren’t for CDCR to allow us to come back in, this would not be happening.”