Inmates who have served in the U.S. armed forces are increasingly receiving special services aimed at helping them through veteran-specific problems as they spend time in jails or prisons.
Veterans comprise 8 percent of all inmates. Government statistics show that there are 86 facilities with special wings or services for veterans, most of which were started in the past five years, The Associated Press reports.
Albany County jail in New York is one such facility that includes a special cell block for veterans, also known as "veteran pods."
"It’s not just us and our thoughts all day," said James Gibson, a 31-year-old Navy vet serving a 60-day sentence for criminal contempt. "Everybody who’s been in here has been in the service. So we can all relate to at least that."
Not all prisons provide the same experience for veteran inmates. Some offer daily flag raisings, while others offer meditation, substance abuse treatment and counseling.
The Albany County pod was one of the first experimental veterans' jail pods in the U.S., NBC News reports.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said he initially faced resistance to the idea. But within just two years, the 195 inmates who had been in the pod demonstrated the program's success: only 10 were sent back to jail, but nearly 50 percent of general inmates are jailed again after release.
Air Force veteran Kyle Weber, 27, told NBC News he "felt safe" in the Albany County pod. Weber had gotten into a dispute with a relative and has been diagnosed with a mental illness in the past.
"We all fought for something bigger than ourselves," he said. "This is the best worst thing that ever happened to me."
Scott Swaim, the division director of veteran advocacy group Justice for Vets, said the pods are "popping up everywhere."
"I think there's value to it," he remarked. "Military culture is really important and vet-to-vet support works best because all the conversations are shortened. We came from the same foundation. Everybody went through boot camp."
Now three years into the program, Apple told The Associated Press that only 6 percent of Albany County's 331 inmates have been arrested since they were released.
One Army veteran, 29-year-old Tommy Hartmann, is among the inmates who have returned to their old block, though not for committing a crime -- Hartmann got a job at Soldier On, the nonprofit counseling group that works with inmates at the pod.
"They set me up to succeed when I got out," Hartmann said. "Rather than just sitting on the tier, playing cards, watching TV, doing pushups, whatever, I was doing positive stuff toward my recovery and becoming a better part in society."