Connecticut opens prison unit dedicated to veterans

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP)– Connecticut’s Correction Department has set up a new unit in its prison system devoted solely to inmates who are also military veterans.

The Veterans Service Unit, which includes 110 beds inside the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution, will be formally dedicated on Monday in a ceremony attended by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

It’s part of a larger reintegration center at the prison, designed to prepare inmates to re-enter society.

But, in addition to the job training and other programs offered to other prisoners, the veterans will get special help to deal with military-specific issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. There also will be peer counseling from other vets who have been to prison and access to attorneys from the Connecticut Veterans Legal Clinic.

The unit has a military theme, complete with reveille in the morning, a color guard, and a code of conduct that includes keeping a “squared away uniform at all times.”

There are patriotic murals on the walls, and the official seals of the five branches of the Armed Services are displayed.

Prisoners will be rotated through military-themed “crews” each responsible for a different aspect of the unit’s daily routine. The “ritual crew,” for example, leads a daily memorial and moment of silence in honor of soldiers who have recently died in the line of duty.

“These guys follow the rules and have a mutual respect for each, which is why I think it works” said Michele Roberts, a social worker with the U.S. Veterans Administration who works with the inmates on re-entry issues such as housing and health care. She was part of a tour state officials took of a similar unit in Pennsylvania, when considering setting up the facility in this state.

“There are no fights, no disciplinary tickets,” she said. “The unit is immaculate all the time. There is a schedule. There is a routine. There are mental health services.”

The Veterans Administration says there are currently more than 530 military veterans in Connecticut prisons.

The unit is open to inmates in any branch of service including Reserves and National Guard. Inmates wishing to become part of the unit must fill out an application and meet certain criteria. Sex offenders and inmates deemed high security risks are not eligible.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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