A Process & Impact Evaluation of the Veterans Moving Forward: Best Practices, Outcomes, and Cost-Effectiveness, United States, 2015-2016 (ICPSR 37192)

Version Date: Jan 30, 2020 View help for published

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Cynthia Burke, San Diego Association of Governments


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In 2014, the San Diego Association of Governments applied for and received funding from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to conduct a process and impact evaluation of the Veterans Moving Forward (VMF) program that was created by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in partnership with the San Diego Veterans Administration (VA) in 2013. VMF is a veteran-only housing unit for male inmates who have served in the U.S. military. When the grant was written, experts in the field had noted that the population of veterans returning to the U.S. with numerous mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and depression, were increasing and as a result, the number of veterans incarcerated in jails and prisons was also expected to increase. While numerous specialized courts for veterans had been implemented across the country at the time, veteran-specific housing units for those already sentenced to serve time in custody were rarer and no evaluations of these units had been published. Since this evaluation grant was awarded, the number of veteran-only housing units has increased, demonstrating the need for more evaluation information regarding lessons learned.

A core goal when creating VMF was to structure an environment for veterans to draw upon the positive aspects of their shared military culture, create a safe place for healing and rehabilitation, and foster positive peer connections. There are several components that separate VMF from traditional housing with the general population that relate to the overall environment, the rehabilitative focus, and initiation of reentry planning as early as possible. These components include the selection of correctional staff with military backgrounds and an emphasis on building on their shared experience and connecting through it; a less restrictive and more welcoming environment that includes murals on the walls and open doors; no segregation of inmates by race/ethnicity; incentives including extended dayroom time and use of a microwave and coffee machine (under supervision); mandatory rehabilitative programming that focuses on criminogenic and other underlying risks and needs or that are quality of life focused, such as yoga, meditation, and art; a VMF Counselor who is located in the unit to provide one-on-one services to clients, as well as provide overall program management on a day-to-day basis; the regular availability of VA staff in the unit, including linkages to staff knowledgeable about benefits and other resources available upon reentry; and the guidance and assistance of a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) to support reentry transition for individuals needing additional assistance.

The general criteria for housing in this veteran module includes: (1) not being at a classification level above a four, which requires a maximum level of custody; (2) not having less than 30 days to serve in custody; (3) no state or federal prison holds and/or prison commitments; (4) no fugitive holds; (5) no prior admittance to the psychiatric security unit or a current psychiatric hold; (6) not currently a Post-Release Community Supervision Offender serving a term of flash incarceration; (7) not in custody for a sex-related crime or requirement to register per Penal Code 290; (8) no specialized housing requirements including protective custody, administration segregation, or medical segregation; and (9) no known significant disciplinary incidents.

Burke, Cynthia. A Process & Impact Evaluation of the Veterans Moving Forward: Best Practices, Outcomes, and Cost-Effectiveness, United States, 2015-2016. [distributor], 2020-01-30. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR37192.v1

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United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2014-IJ-CX-0103)

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2013-11-01 -- 2017-01-01
2015 -- 2017

Three key objectives guided this evaluation effort, including being able to (1) document how a veteran-only housing unit was implemented and managed; (2) determine if service delivery and inmate management are facilitated when veterans are housed together; and (3) determine if veteran reentry is more successfully accomplished and cost-effective when veterans are housed together. In addition, because the focus of the funding was on documenting the challenges and successes of a researcher-practitioner partnership, the nature and lessons learned from these interactions were tracked.

To measure these objectives, a variety of data collection methods were used including program observation; intake, exit, and six-month follow-up surveys with 141 Veterans Moving Forward (VMF) clients; key staff and other deputy surveys and interviews; listening sessions; data compilation from program records to track assessment and service provision; and analysis of archival justice system records for criminal history, rule violation, and recidivism.

Because random assignment of inmates to receive Veterans Moving Forward (VMF) services or to be in a "treatment as usual" control group was not feasible, a historical comparison group of clients was selected to compare to the Treatment Group that was the primary focus of the evaluation, as well as a Historical Treatment Group, to better understand how the program may have changed over time. The 141 Treatment Group clients entered the program between March 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016, had a program exit and release from custody date prior to January 1, 2017, and were in the program for at least 30 days. A total of 191 VMF clients were approached to be in the Treatment Group, but 24 declined to participate and 1 gave initial consent but later withdrew it; these individuals were not tracked. Of the remaining 166, 16 were excluded from the Treatment Group because they were in the program for less than 30 days (with the majority transferred to another placement, including regional recovery centers), 8 did not exit custody until after the cut-off date to track recidivism outcomes, and 1 had previously participated in VMF and was already in the Historical Treatment Group. The Comparison Group was composed of 98 veterans in Sheriff's Department custody who would have been eligible for VMF, who were booked on or after January 1, 2013 and were released from custody prior to January 1, 2015. The Historical Treatment Group included 91 VMF clients who entered the program on or after November 1, 2013 and had a program exit date prior to January 1, 2015 and a release from custody date prior to January 1, 2017.

Longitudinal: Panel

Veteran inmates who were eligible for the Veterans Moving Forward (VMF) program.

inmate, staff

The Client Intake Survey dataset includes variables about the client's relationships with other veterans, reasons for entering the Veterans Moving Forward (VMF) program, their past and present mental health, their criminal history, their support systems, and some demographic information.

The Client Exit Survey dataset includes variables about VMF clients' opinions about the VMF program and their own recovery in the program, the classes they took and whether those classes met their needs, their opinions on VMF staff, and their outlook and resources after release.

The Client Follow-Up Survey dataset includes variables about VMF clients' opinions on the program and whether or not specific aspects of it met their needs, as well as their interactions with Veterans Affairs (VA) since release.

The Non-Unit Deputy Survey dataset includes variables on staff who are not assigned to the veterans unit but are asked to cover shifts there, and their opinions on the VMF program and inmates participating in that program.

The Staff Survey Year 1 and Staff Survey Year 2 datasets both contain variables about VMF staff's reasons for working in the VMF program, their opinions on the program's effectiveness, and their opinions on the inmates.

The Observation dataset contains variables about observations of different VMF classes and rating various aspects of those classes, such as the instructor's enthusiasm, the program's content, and the participants' level of interest.

The Attendance dataset contains variables about VMF clients' attendance at program activities.

The Demographic dataset contains variables about VMF clients' demographic information and military history.

The History dataset includes variables about VMF clients' criminal history.

The Instant Offense Booking dataset includes variables about VMF clients' arrest that led to incarceration and participation in the VMF program.

The Instant Offense Conviction dataset includes variables about VMF clients' conviction that led to incarceration and participation in the VMF program.

The Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) dataset includes variables regarding a system that is used to assess clients.

The Recidivism dataset includes variables about the frequency of VMF clients' behavior while incarcerated, and their rates of recidivism.

The Propensity Score Model dataset includes variables about VMF clients' risk of violence and recidivism.

The program exit survey had a 80% response rate. The six-month follow-up survey had a 70% response rate.





Propensity score weighting was used to create the study comparison group to be able to identify how all members of the study would have performed in regard to the outcome if given the treatment (defined by proxy as the group value), separating the effect of treatment from the observed confounding factors of ethnicity, age, and assessed risk categories.



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