updated 5/20/2007 9:15:12 PM ET 2007-05-21T01:15:12

Military veterans in prison are more than twice as likely to have been convicted for sex offenses than nonveteran inmates, the government reports. Federal researchers cannot say why.

A study released Sunday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics compared the populations of inmates who served in the military and those who did not.

Veterans are half as likely to be incarcerated as the overall male population in the first place, researchers found, but 23 percent of the veterans in prison were sex offenders, compared with 9 percent of nonveteran inmates.

“We couldn’t come to any definite conclusion as to why,” said Margaret E. Noonan, one of the study’s authors.

The numbers mirror a trend seen in military prisons, where populations have declined but sexual assault remains the most common crime.

“I don’t want people to come away from this thinking veterans are crazed sex offenders,” Noonan said. “I want them to understand that veterans are less likely to be in prison in the first place.”

The incarceration rate for veterans is 630 per 100,000, compared with 1,390 per 100,000 for nonveterans.

The study found that veterans in prison were older, more educated, more likely to have been married and more likely than nonveterans to be incarcerated for violent crimes or offenses against women or children.

Age plays a factor
Many of those findings can be explained simply by age demographics, Colby College sociologist Alec Campbell said.

Crime tends to decrease with age, so older inmates are more likely serving lengthy sentences. Veterans as a group are older than the general population, so Campbell said it is not surprising to see a higher percentage of veterans imprisoned for violent crimes, which carry longer prison sentences.

“I think that would go away if you controlled for age” in the study, Campbell said.

Because crimes against women or children can carry longer than average sentences, it is possible that statistic also follows from the aging veterans population, he said.

He said the statistic about sexual assault was “potentially interesting” but said it is impossible to know what that means without more information.

The veterans population has declined as the prison population has risen. Of the more than 2 million prisoners in 2004, an estimated 140,000 were veterans. That number is down from 153,100 in 2000.

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