A program is helping veterans that are in prison find a new normal

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Veterans are often praised for their efforts to keep our country safe, but sometimes even those men and women take a wrong turn in life.

A member of the Mississippi Incarcerated Veterans Program was in Columbus to tell others how they can help get these former service members back on the right track. When people hear the word veterans, they think of military uniforms, not orange jumpsuits, but there are 3,515 veterans currently under the supervision of MDOC and as of January 4, 2022;  there were 1,012 veterans in custody throughout the state.

The housing unit for military veterans looks to help those former service members while they’re in prison and when they get out by offering a job focused veteran reentry project.

“If a guy has a job or a woman has a job coming out of prison they stand a better chance of staying out of prison,, getting strapped for money is the hardest thing to overcome when you’re out of prison and don’t have a lot of resources so our goal is to get an inmate a job before he or she leaves prison,” said Betty Ruth Hawkins, the director of the program.

Hawkins said 258 participants have enrolled in the program and 106 have completed it, and when they’re released most don’t come back.

“We had six men come back to prison so our recidivism rate is about 6% which is pretty good when you look at individual men,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins was in Columbus Thursday afternoon giving people insight on how the program works and its direction for the future. The program teaches veteran inmates skills like carpentry, brick making, and welding.

“There’s consequences for bad behavior in the program, if a guy doesn’t want to accept change he doesn’t get to stay. We lose 25% of all the men who enrolled in our program because they just don’t want to do it,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins said there are 33 veteran women in prison and while they don’t have the resources to help each of them, they’re working them in to feel like they have a chance at rehabilitation too.

“We do not have the staff to work with them one on one but they’re enrolled in our welding classes so they come over, I have about 10 veterans in welding and then we work with them we have events and so we include them,” said Hawkins.

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