In the Media

First jail for US veterans will offer helping hand to a growing problem

PUBLISHED May 6, 2012

The problem of US military veterans falling into a life of crime after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has reached such levels that a law enforcer in Georgia has opened what is believed to be America's first county jail devoted to veteran inmates.

John Darr, the sheriff of Muscogee County in Columbus, Georgia, has created the new facility in an attempt to break the cycle of recidivism by providing them with specialist services to help them deal with the problems they carry with them when they decamp.

"It's really unique. What we're bringing together is a lot of resources," Darr told the local Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

Among the partnerships that are being set up is a link to Veterans Court, a community group that works with veterans in prison suffering from mental illness. The new dormitory, that will house 16 incarcerated veterans, will also provide those soon to be released with advice and support as they transition back into the community.

Up-to-date figures on the number of imprisoned veterans are hard to come by, but the problem is known to be extensive. A report from 2004 calculated there were about 140,000 veterans in US federal and state prisons but that might be a small fraction of the total as many more are held at county jail level.

As sheriff 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."

A report from the Drug Policy Alliance exposed high levels of substance abuse among veterans, accompanied by mental problems with as many as one in three suffering from PTSD and depression.

In addition to the mental health consequences of prolonged exposure to war zones, deactivated military personnel often struggle from other social problems that can lead them towards incarceration. Homelessness is a common state of the military veteran with the Veteran Affairs department estimating that 67,000 veterans are homeless every night.

The new veterans facility will be located in Muscogee County jail in Columbus, close to Fort Bening, a large military base. Inmates at the jail, that has been open for about a month, have told reporters they are pleased with the atmosphere inside.

Wilbert Cox, a veteran of 10 years' service in the army, told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer: "This is the first time I've been in jail and it's the place I thought I'd be. We're not just thrown into the wolves' den. There is something available to us for our service to our country."