Good news/bad news. The good news is that a county in Georgia is going above and beyond the norm to provide assistance to military veterans in need. The bad news is that they have to go to jail first to receive it.
All too commonly, when veterans return to American society following their service, the transition is not easy. Veterans are at a heightened risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, economic troubles and homelessness. Since these are all common factors that contribute to civilians turning to a life of crime, it is no surprise that veterans suffer a similar fate.
To combat this problem, officials in Columbus, Georgia have opened a prison facility just for veterans, The Guardian and the Ledger-Enquirer report. Since in so many ways these veterans have been set up to fail upon returning home, sheriff John Darr hopes to provide services to help break the pattern and lead successful, lawful lives. “If they are not dealing with issues they may have, where are they going to go? They’re going to go to local county jails,” Darr said.
The prison holds 16 inmates and functions somewhat like a group home. The idea is that the incarcerated inmates can work through their troubles among peers, as they share experiences that others cannot understand. “Soldiers will find a way to link together,” said Roy Plummer, a retired colonel who is joining the efforts.
“It’s really unique,” said Darr. “What we’re bringing together is a lot of resources.” The prison will partner with several organizations to offer extra assistance to the convicted veterans such as Veterans Court, which provides veterans with legal assistance; New Horizons, which offers counseling; a group that provides PTSD treatment; and the Plummer House, Roy Plummer’s organization, which finds housing for homeless veterans.
The need for this prison, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, is addressing a clear problem. Although wardens can speak anecdotally about the high numbers of veterans in their prisons, exact figures are unavailable due to a lack of recent research on this topic. However, in 2004, a report showed that nearly 140,000 veterans were being held in state and federal jails. That number is expected to be a serious lowball now that many more veterans have returned home. Additionally, that figure wholly disregards the inmates held in county jails, which probably dwarves the federal and state level prisons in comparison.
Following a series of theft and trespassing charges, veteran Wilbert Cox was sent to Georgia’s new facility. After 10 years of Army service, Cox says he is glad to receive extra help getting his life back on track. He particularly appreciates how much calmer of an environment the veterans’ prison is compared to the jail he was held in previously.
While the idea for the jail seems to come from a place of genuine concern, its mere existence also highlights a major issue that needs to be addressed. If we know that veterans are more likely to turn to a life of a crime, why not offer more support and intervene before it is necessary to arrest them?
Photo Credit: The U.S. Army