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New corrections housing unit eases transition for Cuyahoga County veterans

Cuyahoga County Corrections Center

Sheriff department regional corrections director Ken Mills and Judge Michael E. Jackson

While Veterans' Day comes but once a year, help for this much respected sector of the population is needed year round. And while Nov 11, 2016 is almost a week behind us, Cuyahoga County has established a special housing unit its creators say is a critical support system for jailed veterans transitioning back into society.

Via a partnership with veterans groups and community service providers - along with a nod from local leaders including county executive Armond Budish - the new Veterans Housing Unit provides programming and camaraderie to ex-military.
 
Founded in the wake of a new Veterans Treatment Court in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, the unit is already paying dividends, officials say. The 26 men currently housed in the newly formed space at Cuyahoga County Corrections Center are utilizing services from the Veterans Administration and other military support networks. While additional programming is still being processed, sheriff department regional corrections director Ken Mills says participants will get financial assistance and critical job information.
 
Inmates will also receive interview training through enrollment in the Ohio Means Jobs program. Mental health and substance abuse programs, meanwhile, are set to give veterans connections that most short-term corrections facilities don't offer.
 
"We're providing links to veterans before they leave jail," says Mills. "The goal is to help get these guys back on track."
 
A corrections inmate may be incarcerated for mere weeks, or as long as a year, making their initial identification as a veteran a top priority, says county common pleas Judge Michael E. Jackson. New inmates wishing to join the veterans housing unit must finish a questionnaire classifying their service history, an option available for current inmates as well. Eligible inmates are placed together to share hardships that only other veterans may relate to.
 
"Being able to share experiences results in less recidivism and less new cases after leaving jail," Jackson says. "There's a level of trust and understanding there. It makes a big difference."
 
About 500 to 600 veterans cycle through the county corrections system annually, the judge notes. Programming inside puts war vets on a positive path to an outside world they may have difficulty navigating otherwise.
 
"They're taking active steps now instead of waiting to see what will happen to them," says Jackson. "Now they know there's places where they can access the services they require."
 
Hamilton County in southeast Ohio has a similar veterans housing program, one its northern neighbor would like to emulate.
 
“It’s our responsibility to assist those that have fought for and served our country, regardless of their circumstances," says Mills. “We hope that these services, coupled with the camaraderie of being housed with others of similar experiences, assists with making a successful transition." 

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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