Support for Balanced Justice and Rehabilitation for Justice-Involved Veterans

Publication Date01 June 2019
AuthorLincoln B. Sloas,Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk
Date01 June 2019
Support for Balanced Justice
and Rehabilitation for Justice-
Involved Veterans
Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk
and Lincoln B. Sloas
Justice-involved veterans face increased behavioral health (e.g., mental health and substance abuse)
issues and are more likely to be incarcerated for a violent offense compared to nonveterans. Despite
the large number of veterans involved in the justice system, there is a paucity of research examining
public opinion of sanctioning approaches for justice-involved veterans. The current study seeks to fill
this gap by sampling 575 undergraduate students at a large university in the south to examine
support for sanctioning approaches for nonviolent and violent justice–involved veterans. Multi-
nomial logistic regression was conducted to examine whether beliefs regarding the treatment of
justice-involved veterans (e.g., whether veterans deserve access to rehabilitation programs, the
ability of veterans to be rehabilitated, whether veterans are willing to work toward rehabilitation,
and the effectiveness of treatment programs for veterans) relate to support for balanced justice.
Findings suggest support for a balanced justice approach to sanctioning violent justice–involved
veterans, while support for a rehabilitation-oriented approach to sanctioning nonviolent justice–
involved veterans. Policy implications and directions for future research are discussed.
sanctioning, balanced justice, rehabilitation, public opinion, veterans’ treatment courts
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2016b), there are over 19.4 million veterans
living in the United States. Of these veterans, approximately 2.6 million served in the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq (“post–9/11 wars”; Department of Veterans Affairs, 2016a). While military
experience undeniably has positive benefits, such as increased resilience, comradery, and socio-
economic status (Elder, 1998; MacLean & Elder, 2007), a large number of veterans report difficulty
readjusting to civilian life and many believe the public cannot relate to the post-deployment strug-
gles veterans encounter (Pew Research Center, 2011). Readjusting to civilian life is even more
difficult for veterans who experienced a traumatic event while enlisted, were engaged in combat,
were injured, or knew someone who was injured or killed (Morin, 2011).
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road,
222 Social Science Building, Boca Raton, FL 33431, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2019, Vol. 44(2) 165-182
ª2018 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818793698
A growing body of research examines the pote ntial adverse, long-lasting effects of military
service on veterans (e.g., Adams, Corrigan, & Larson, 2012; Institute of Medicine, 2013; Spiro &
Settersten, 2012). Of concern in this literature are the high rates of substance use disorders, mental
illness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury (TBI) veterans experience.
Studies have found, for instance, that approximately 30%of army soldiers and marines returning
from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan met the criteria for alcohol misuse (Hoge et al., 2004), and
almost 12%were diagnosed with a substance use disorder (Seal et al., 2011). Veterans incarcerated
in prison are significantly more likely, compared to nonveteran prisoners, to have a mental health
disorder (48%vs. 36%, respectively) and be diagnosed with PTSD (23%vs. 11%, respectively). Just
as concerning as the rate of behavioral and mental health issues experienced by veterans is the
number of justice-involved veterans. Accord ing to the most recent statistics, in 2011–2012, an
estimated 181,500 veterans were incarcerated in jails and state and federal prison facilities across
the United States (Bronson, Carson, Noonan, & Berzofsky, 2015). Moreover, veterans are more
likely to serve time for a violent offense (64%) compared to nonveterans (48%).
Despite the high rates of substance abuse, mental illness, and criminal justice system involve-
ment, there is a lack of research on public opinion toward punishment and rehabilitation of
veterans who violate the law. It is well-known that the public tends to hold punitive sentiments
toward law violators, which has been growing in recent years (Cullen, Fisher, & Applegate, 2000;
Enns, 2014). Research also finds the public to simultaneously support rehabilitation of offenders
(Applegate, Cullen, & Fisher, 1997; Cullen et al., 2000; Nagin, Piquero, Scott, & Steinberg, 2006;
Thielo, Cullen, Cohen, & Chouhy, 2015). In a recentattempttoaccurately assess public opinion
regarding punishment and rehabilitation, Mears, Pickett, and Mancini (2015) examined public
support for balanced justice—a sanctioning approach that emphasizes punishment and rehabilita-
tion simultaneously—for violent youthful offenders. Results suggested that the majority of
respondents preferred a balanced justice approach to sanctioning violent youthful offenders.
While the public opinion literature has examined attitudes toward various types of offenders
(e.g., youthful offenders, sex offenders, violent offenders , and property offenders), there is no
research specifically examining punitive (or nonpunitive) sentiments toward justice-involved
veterans, which is interesting, given the widespread adoption of sanctions specific to veterans
(e.g., veterans’ treatment courts [VTCs]).
The current study seeks to enhance the public opinion and limited balanced justice literature by
building upon the work of Mears and colleagues (2015). Utilizing a sample of 575 criminology and
criminal justice (CCJ) students at a large southern university, this study examines public opinion for
sanctioning nonviolent and violent ju stice–involved veterans. Further, we ex amine how beliefs
related to treatment and refo rm of justice-involved veteran s relates to support for punish ment,
rehabilitation, and balanced justice. By understanding, in more detail, support for sanctioning
approaches for justice-involved veterans, the results have the potential to add to the body of liter-
ature on public opinion toward punishment and rehabilitation. Moreover, the results can further
inform policy and practice, as public support for sanctioning approaches can shape policy-making—
directly through ballot initiatives or indirectly through electoral incentives for politicians (Enns,
2014)—and give rise to an increas e or decrease in funding for balanced ju stice approaches to
sanctioning justice-involved veterans.
Literature Review
Public Opinion Toward Punishment and Rehabilitation
The extant literature has documented a growing public sentiment toward more punitive criminal
justice outcomes following the “nothing works” movement of the 1970s (Enns, 2014; Martinson,
166 Criminal Justice Review 44(2)

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