MUSCOGEE COUNTY, Ga. — Veterans returning home to Georgia may soon join other military members in a new dormitory reserved especially for them — in a jail.
In an attempt to break the cycle of recidivism, Sheriff John Darr created the new facility to give veteran-inmates services to help them deal with the issues often linked with decamping.
Since the veterans are grouped in the same area, they can bond with each other and receive medical treatment from a centralized location, staff said.
“We wanted to place them in with peers instead of people from other walks of life,” said Major Randy Robertson.
With mental health issues on the rise, especially in prisons, veterans who have had traumatizing experiences on tour are at increased risk of serving time behind bars.
As Darr told Fox News, “If [veterans] are not dealing with issues they may have, where are they going to go? They’re going to go to local county jails.”
One in three veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, veterans are at a higher risk for substance abuse, depressions, anxiety, economic troubles and homelessness, all of which can lead to a life of crime.
Some 67,000 veterans are homeless every night, according to an estimate from the Veterans Affairs department. A 2004 report showed that nearly 140,000 were held in state and federal prisons, not including occupants in county jails.
In the Muscogee County Jail, the 16-person dorm provides services intended to ease the strain on veteran inmates and help them transition back into society.
“The people in the veterans dorm get access to programs that will hopefully be addressing their concerns or needs,” Darr said. “When they transition back into the community we don’t have the problem [of recidivism].”
Volunteer-run services such as addiction programs, depression treatment and counseling are available to inmates. Jail officials are also partnering with community agencies to offer housing assistance.
Municipalities near military bases, like Muscogee County, are seeing a higher increase in veteran crimes than those that are not.
The veterans dorm at the Muscogee County Jail is almost filled to capacity with members from every military branch, except the Coast Guard and the Marines. The jail plans to expand the dorm to include at least 16 more beds, Robertson said.
Inmates say they like the new facility and are pleased with their treatment.
“This is the first time I’ve been in jail and it’s the place I thought I’d be,” veteran Wilbert Cox told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “We’re not just thrown into the wolves’ den. There is something available to us for our service to our country.”
Blake Chester, who served in the army four years, told Fox News the facility encourages him to improve himself.
“It really gives you that feeling that you’re not pushed aside,” he said. “You haven’t slipped between the cracks and you’re still a part of something. Even if it has been a long time, you’re still a part of something and we all try to really help one another and look after one another.”