Prisoners at West Virginia Northern Regional Jail build flag boxes for families of veterans, but neither the jail nor the court system take the problems of veterans into consideration when prosecuting them.
The jail has a woodshop that is “helping people learn,” said a prisoner foreman in the shop.
Gregg Bayes, the instructor, said the prisoners are learning a trade they can use upon release.
Part of learning basic carpentry skills involves building the flag boxes. The Moundsville Honor Guard provides donations to purchase wood for the program. “Nothing is more important than taking care of our veterans and families,” said honor guard member Phillip Cameron. “Their faces just light up when they are given the box.”
Prison officials say the program has value to prisoners. “The opportunity for these men to come together in the spirit of honoring our veterans and their families provides them with the invaluable experience of giving back and helping others,” said Betsy Jividen, commissioner of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
About 10% of all prisoners are veterans. When they are charged, little consideration is given to the fact that many are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder when they are prosecuted. Transitioning from a war zone back into society is difficult for many veterans.
The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world. While our armed services are in theory working to protect our rights and our Democracy, they do not protect prisoners' rights or our democratic right to vote. Most prisoners cannot vote, and some states disenfranchise convicted felons.
While the flag boxes are a nice gesture to the loved ones of a deceased veteran, such niceties should not be allowed to gloss over our criminal justice system's failure to recognize the mental and societal issues our armed forces face when they return home from war.
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