In 2011–12, an estimated 181,500 veterans (8% of all inmates in state and federal prison and local jails) were incarcerated. This represented a decline from the 206,500 incarcerated veterans (9% of the total incarcerated population) in 2004. While the number of veterans in prison and jail increased along with growth in the overall number of persons incarcerated between 1980 and 2008, the proportion of incarcerated veterans has declined, down from an estimated 24% of all persons incarcerated in 1978.

In 1978, 19% of U.S. adult residents, 24% of prisoners, and 25% of jail inmates were military veterans. By 2011–12, veterans accounted for 9% of the general population, 8% of state and federal prisoners, and 7% of jail inmates. The total incarceration rate in 2011–12 for veterans (855 per 100,000 veterans in the United States) was lower than the rate for nonveterans (968 per 100,000 U.S. residents).

A greater percentage of veterans (64%) than nonveterans (48%) were sentenced for violent offenses. 77% of incarcerated veterans received military discharges that were honorable or under honorable conditions and 25% of veterans in prison and 31% of veterans in jail reported they had been in combat.

About 48% of all veterans in prison and 55% in jail had been told by a mental health professional they had a mental disorder. Incarcerated veterans who saw combat (60% in prison and 67% in jail) were more likely than noncombat veterans (44% in prison and 49% in jail) to have been told they had a mental disorder.