Casualties of Criminal Justice: The Incarceration of American Veterans, 1972-2012

Bryan L. Sykes, DePaul University
Amy K. Bailey, University of Illinois at Chicago

Past work documents the ways in which competing institutions matter in the lives of disadvantaged men. The decline in veteran incarceration rates since the 1970s raises important questions about the origins and factors that have produced this deceleration. We argue that the educational requirements mandated for military service may have important protective factors for young, African-American men likely to experience criminal justice contact, particularly at a moment in American history when the penal system experienced significant growth. This paper assesses whether, and to what extent, changes in the racial, educational, and population distribution of the military have impacted race and class inequality in incarceration. By 2012, the educational requirements for military service stabilized black-white inequality in incarceration rates among educated veterans, and that black veterans experience lower rates of imprisonment than their similarly situated white counterparts. However, this finding is an artifact of growing sample selection bias in national surveys.

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Presented in Poster Session 5: Economy, Labor Force, Education and Inequality