Florida Prisons Giving Hundreds Of Veteran Inmates Second Chances

Milton, Fla. (CBS Tampa) — Florida is looking to give veterans behind bars a second chance.

The Florida Department of Corrections is running a special program for 300 inmates who served in the military to get them back on their feet. The vets have a new dormitory set aside for them and have an enormous American flag that covers their cell doors. Aside from inspection, raising the flag and playing “Taps” each day, they’re trained in how to thrive in what’s become a hostile environment for inmates: the outside world.

Incarcerated veterans comprise 6.6 of Florida’s inmate population.

One of the prisoners taking part in the program is Marvin Hurst, who used to serve in the Army in the early 70s. He’s been in-and-out of jail since 1991 for trafficking stolen property, forgery and burglary of an unoccupied structure. But Hurst said this time is his last.

“The last few times, I didn’t have any tools at my disposal, had a negative attitude and tried right away to get my old relationships back,” Hurst told CBS Tampa.

An estimated 33.1 percent of Florida’s prisoners released between 2001 and 2008 returned to prison. Rates are higher on average for younger prisoners and those who have served before.

Warden Randy Tift of Santa Clara Correctional Institute hopes that dipping prisoners once more into the military tradition will remind them of the responsibility that comes with responsible citizenship.

“We’re always looking for creative ways to reduce prisoners’ recidivism rates and rates of victimization,” Tift told CBS Tampa.

Group classes are constructed to immediately match prisoners with Veterans Affairs offices and to teach better decision making.

The active ingredient of the program, Tift and Hurst said, taps into a pride and self-esteem formed before Hurst started making “bad decisions.”

Similar, but civilian-themed classes, exist elsewhere in the system, but Hurst said the difference is the attitude.

One: there’s camaraderie. “It’s second-to-none,” Hurst said.

Two: positive reinforcement. “It facilitates better decision making,” Tift said.

Three: it matches prisoners with a mindset that predates their earlier failures, reminds them that achievement is progressive and requiring of hard work and improves prisoners’ mindsets during the last three years of their terms, called their most crucial by Tift.

Hurst said, “It’s kind of like being back in basic training.”

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