In Phoenix, more than 200 veteran inmates have been told they will be moving to a segregated wing of the Maricopa County Jail. All Veterans in the custody of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office are now being housed under one roof. Sheriff Joe Arpaio on announced the opening of a new veterans-only section in the Jail in Phoenix.
During a press conference, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio formally announced his plan to house approximately 250 veteran inmates together, in a housing unit that dons “patriotic décor” and features special behavioral programming aimed at dealing with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD continues to plague veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan – and for incarcerated veterans, coping with the disorder without the help of friends or family can be even more difficult.
Sheriff Arpaio has called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” particularly on immigration. In October 2013, a federal judge ordered an independent monitor to oversee Arpaio, after ruling that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office singled out Latinos for detention. Now Sheriff Arpaio says he wants to help veteran inmates dealing with PTSD.
The thought is that housing veterans in one place makes it easier for the Sheriff’s Office to provide services that will help ease the inmates’ eventual transition back into the community.
“I believe we have to do everything we can for our veterans,” Arpaio told a group of veterans being held on suspicion of charges including driving under the influence, robbery and burglary. “Many of you who have fought for our country are here. Some of you, unfortunately, have some medical-mental problems I want to make sure that’s rectified. I want to make sure we do everything we can to find a job for you when you leave this jail.”
Arpaio said many of the county’s approximately 250 veterans in detainment have post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental-health issues. Housing veterans in a common area will allow them to support one another and make it easier to provide counseling, job training and other services from the county and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, officials said.
“It is my hope that this program will give you the tools and opportunity to address issues that you are facing in your life and will assist you in getting back on your feet and back to the way of life that you served to protect,” Arpaio wrote in an open letter to the inmates being moved.
The facility is festooned with painted red, white and blue stripes, and decorated with emblems and flags from the various branches of the military. A large mural painted by an inmate depicts an American soldier on one knee with his head bowed in prayer.
Sgt. Jennifer Perks, who supervises the jail’s outpatient substance abuse program and inmate transition services, said, “While they’re here we’re going to make the best use of their talents (as) we can. Our intention is for them to be successful when they leave the jail.”
Perks said officials hope having the inmates separated from the general population will help them stay on the straight-and-narrow.
“We’re hoping that they motivate each other to continue to be successful.”
Being able to live around other vets was an “unbelievable gift,” said inmate Justin MacGregor, a former Navy petty officer from Phoenix.
Inmate Jesus Garcia, a Chandler resident and former Army specialist who worked as a mechanic, said vets with emotional or mental scars can relate to each other in ways that no one else can.
“We can talk to each other,” he said. “It’s a bond.”
Arpaio hopes to use segregated housing as a way to honor veteran inmates’ commitment to service.
“This program is our way of letting you know that we have not forgotten that commitment, despite whatever circumstances in your life have landed you into the custody of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,” Arpaio wrote in his open letter.
Programs like these have popped up across the country in recent years, with veteran inmate wings opening in Georgia and Los Angeles. Phoenix’s program is similar to one implemented more than three years ago in San Francisco County.
At San Francisco’s County Jail Five in the San Bruno Jail Complex, the COVER program (Community of Veterans Engaged in Restoration) has been housing incarcerated veterans together since September 2010.
County sheriff’s office spokesperson Susan Fahey says the 48 veterans in COVER go through intensive programming every day, and she doesn’t hear complaints from inmates saying they don’t want to be there.
“From what I’ve seen, the inmates seem to be very appreciative to have something tailored to them,” Fahey said to ABCNews.com.