MU social work professors research the relationship between veterans and the criminal justice system

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, veterans make up about 8 percent of the U.S. prison population.

Assistant professor Kelli Canada and associate professor Clark Peters of the MU School of Social Work recently published a study outlining the potential factors that lead to veterans entering the criminal justice system.

Veterans made up approximately 8 percent of the United States prison population from 2011 through 2012, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“I got interested in understanding a little bit more about why veterans came into contact with the criminal justice system and if it was for similar or different reasons than people without military backgrounds,” Canada said. “There’s a lot of mixed research as well as a lot of areas where I think we still don’t understand fully what goes on with veterans.”

In the past, Canada worked with adult mental health courts in Chicago. In Columbia, she worked with the first Veterans Treatment Court in Boone County, which opened in 2013.

Canada says the goal of these special courts is to try and rehabilitate at-risk people instead of incarcerating them, which can often do more harm than good. The Veterans Treatment Court operates the same as most adult mental health courts, the only difference being the court requires prior military service.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice and Criminology in June, is the first installment of a two-part study.

Initially, Canada and Peters collected qualitative data and later moved onto quantitative data collection in the second half of the first study. In the first stage, they interviewed 28 veterans about their personal stories and experiences with being in the military and being discharged from the military. Most of the veterans interviewed struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and finding meaningful work once returning home, which are factors that led to their involvement with the criminal justice system.

After hearing the veterans’ stories, Canada and Peters moved on to collect data about race, sex, branch of military and types of crimes committed amongst the 28 interviewed in the first study.

“We did something that was sequential; a mixed-method sequential design, so that means we did a qualitative component first to learn a little bit more about the population, and then the second part is the quantitative study where we took what we learned in the first part of the study and we tried to operationalize it and measure it so that we could look at a bigger population,” Canada said.

Canada and Peters plan to start the publishing process of the second portion of their study, which uses data about arrest patterns among larger groups of veterans, this winter. By the end of this project, the researchers hope to understand the role the criminal justice system plays in veterans’ lives and to open the public’s eyes to some of the issues veterans face, Canada said.

Edited by Olivia Garrett |

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