Veterans housing initiative launched at county jail

New program joins others begun by Sheriff’s Office to help inmates with re-entry into society after incarceration

An inmate listens to a presentation by representatives of Sarasota County Veterans Services. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has launched a veterans housing initiative inside the Sarasota County Jail, the department has announced.

In 2009, when Sheriff Tom Knight took office, “he inspired the creation of addiction recovery pods in partnership with the Salvation Army, behind the walls of the Sarasota County Jail,” a news release points out. “As a strong advocate for alternatives to incarceration” and programs that help people with re-entry into society after they complete sentences, “Knight has continued to support unique and progressive programming that makes the best use of an inmate’s time while incarcerated,” the release adds. To date, the Sarasota County Jail has launched more than 50 unique programs, “including everything from GED to devotional classes, music therapy, and more,” the release says.

The veterans housing initiative, which was created in June, “went live” on July 3, the release continues. On that day, inmates attended their first program, which was presented by representatives of Sarasota County Veteran Services. County staff talked to inmates about issues such as how to obtain and gain access to the G.I. Bill, discharge paperwork, disability options and veterans’ IDs, the release notes.

Because the veterans housing area is located within the re-entry pod of the jail, the release adds, inmates “had the unique opportunity to hang flags and hand-paint artwork representing the five branches of the military.”

Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The release points out, “Inmates will receive regular support and programming from local volunteers and members of the military and veteran communities.”

“The veterans housing initiative is an idea we have discussed for years and we are excited to see finally come to fruition,” said Col. Kurt A. Hoffman, chief deputy of the Sheriff’s Office, in the release. “As an agency that so strongly advocates for the veteran community, it only made sense for us to also focus on veteran inmates,” he continued in the release. “Life after incarceration is challenging enough without the added pressure of navigating veteran benefits, discharge processes, and often times, PTSD. Through this initiative, we are committing ourselves not only to helping vets while they are in our care but also to ensuring they have proper access to resources after they are released.”

Participation in the veterans housing area is voluntary, the release says, and inmates must meet specific criteria to qualify for it. To date, only 10 veteran inmates are enrolled, the release notes, but Sheriff’s Office personnel expect the initiative to grow as the programming become more popular.