COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - According to Chaplain Neil Richardson, the Muscogee County Jail is the first jail in the nation to develop a separate cell block and support system designed specifically to assist former soldiers get back on the right track.
"Our focus is to start things while a guy or a woman is in jail," Richardson explains. "We begin to put together a package for them so that when they get out, there's a plan for them to be successful, and they have the opportunity then to achieve success."
Non-violent offenders with good behavior and military backgrounds are chosen from the general population to be in this group. They receive special attention in the form of mental health and drug counseling, job interview training, and links to non-profit groups that will assist them in their transition back to society.
"It gives you better hope for when you get outside. It gives you something else to do besides get back into the activity that caused you to come in here," one inmate says.
Many soldiers who moved to the area to train at Fort Benning don't have the same support system as someone who grew up in the region.
"Being a vet, I'm not from Columbus, so I don't really have a lot of help as far as family. If there's someone who can help me when I get out, that's always a good thing," another inmate says.
The chaplain says jail is especially tough on veterans, because it's a sharp contrast to the times in their life when they had discipline and pride.
The program is making such an impression that Governor Deal came to Columbus Thursday, Sept. 25, to announce that he is implementing a version in the Georgia state prisons as well.
The statistics Richardson quoted are that normally jail officials can expect two out of every three inmates to return to jail sometime soon. But out of the inmates in this veterans' program, that number is down to less than one out of four.