Of the approximately 101,000 FDOC prisoners, around 6,700 are veterans. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stretched past ten years, the number of military veterans has increased, including the number entering the prison system. Critics have long complained that the government has failed to help veterans integrate back into society after their tours of duty in war zones.
“I think we are going to see a lot of the things we saw after Vietnam,” said FDOC Secretary Ken Tucker. “PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] is real and we have a lot of Iraq and Afghanistan vets returning right now who don’t always want to talk about that.”
FDOC prisoners who were honorably discharged and are within three years of their release date may volunteer for the program, which houses them in units that hold about 400 prisoners each at the Gulf, Lowell, Martin, Santa Rosa and Sumter Correctional Institutions.
The veterans units are different from those for the rest of the prison population. “They are having to live up to higher standards, military standards with clean language and in the condition they keep their dormitories,” said Tucker.
Prisoners are required to maintain their clothes, bunks and living standards at the same level as required by the military; they take part in a flag rising and retiring ceremony at the beginning and end of each day. The guards in the units also have military experience.
One of the main purposes of the program is to “congregate as many inmates as possible in one area where the [Veterans Administration] could meet with them and discuss the programs available to them,” said FDOC spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff.
The program also provides incarcerated veterans with educational and vocational opportunities, as well as counseling for PTSD.
“The military emphasizes pride, character, and integrity,” Tucker stated. “By having veteran inmates in the same dorm before their release from prison, they can work together to recapture some of those qualities while also learning about programs and benefits available specifically for veterans.”
Sources: New York Times, Daily Mail, Orlando Sentinel
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