Purpose: Unprecedented growth in the US prison population has highlighted the overrepresentation of racial/ethnic minorities in prisons. This study examined the hypothesis that veteran status is protective against incarceration for veterans of different racial/ethnic minorities and compared the clinical characteristics of incarcerated veterans by race/ethnicity.
Methods: Using national data from a prisoner re-entry program and data from the 2010 National Survey of Veterans, this study examined the risk of incarceration among veterans who were racial/ethnic minorities and compared sociodemographic and clinical characteristics to White incarcerated veterans.
Results: Of a sample of 30,834 incarcerated veterans, 52 % were White, 39 % African American, 7 % Hispanic, and 2 % were categorized as "Other." African American veterans were 5.6 times and Hispanic veterans 4.3 times more likely to be incarcerated than White veterans across age groups. However, the published odds of being incarcerated as an African American in the general population compared to Whites (6.7 times) is higher, suggesting that veteran status may be somewhat protective against incarceration for African Americans, particularly among certain age groups. Among incarcerated veterans, multivariate analyses found that African American veterans were significantly more likely to have a drug/abuse dependency diagnosis and be currently incarcerated for a drug offense than Whites. Hispanic veterans were significantly more likely to be chronically homeless and also more likely to be incarcerated for a drug offense.
Conclusions: Racial/ethnic differences in incarceration persist among veterans, although are slightly attenuated. Efforts to connect incarcerated veterans with mental health services post-release should be supported, especially in connecting veterans to substance abuse treatment.