Crystal Charles, Former Volunteer Researcher at The Fortune Society

Fortune Launches Initiative To Study Needs Of Veterans With Criminal Justice Involvement

Monday, October 5, 2015

As a 2014-15 Tow Policy Advocacy Fellow, I worked with the Fortune Society’s David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) on a very important project: the launch of Fortune’s Reentry Veterans Initiative.

This initiative was created to develop a deeper understanding of the unique needs of veterans with criminal justice system involvement, to expand their access to essential services, to increase awareness of the issues impacting them, and to share the lessons we learned in our research.

We started the research process with an ongoing literature review in September 2014. We then conducted focus groups with our intake department in October 2014. The focus groups continued with our clients into December and concluded in April with participants in the New York City Veterans Courts.

We discovered that veterans’ issues intersect with homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse. These complex issues are compounded with a broad lack of awareness and understanding of the services available and eligibility criteria for those services.

Additionally, many people were fearful that disclosure of their veteran status would cause a disruption in benefits. People with military experience often misidentified themselves as a result of confusion surrounding discharge status. This confusion and fear creates obstacles to identifying and connecting veterans to services.

The New York City Council held a hearing in September 2015 regarding a bill designed to establish a task force to study the issues confronting veterans involved in the criminal justice system, and issue a report with recommendations on how to limit the involvement of veterans in the criminal justice system, assist veterans transitioning out of the criminal justice system, and expand available legal services for veterans. We are hopeful that once established, the taskforce will accomplish these goals and make essential improvements.

Ann-Cheavelle Brown, the 2015-16 Tow Policy Advocacy Fellow, will lead the Veterans Initiative this academic year. DRCPP plans to continue raising awareness and finding more efficient ways to connect veterans with crucial services, and to elevate the voices of veterans with criminal histories. One way that this will be done is through our partnership with Theater of the Oppressed. This phase of the Veterans Initiative will use the creative arts to engage veterans and generate possibilities for concrete action.

If you are interested in Fortune’s Veterans Initiative, please reach out to Ann-Chevealle at abrown@fortunesociety.org.

Crystal is currently a Ph.D. student at SUNY Albany.

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