- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

LAND O’LAKES, Fla. (AP) - The Pasco County Jail now has a housing unit dedicated to military veterans.

The unit which holds 32 inmates opened Tuesday. It will offer a range of services for veterans, including counseling, rehabilitation, job placement, life skills and outreach programs.

The idea came from Capt. Ray Revell, who heard of a similar program during a 10-week leadership training trip to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va., in 2012.

“We want to help some of these guys get their pride and integrity back,” Revell said. “A lot of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some have substance abuse problems. Others are homeless.”

For Sheriff Chris Nocco, the veteran’s unit is an example of a transforming jail.

“We’re changing the jail in that this is no longer just about housing, this is about transforming people to be who they used to be before they committed a crime or fell into issues with substance abuse or mental health issues,” Nocco said.

The veteran’s program, he said, offers a way for veteran’s get back on their feet.

“They served their country; they have proven to us as a nation that they can do the right thing. This is about an opportunity for them to lift themselves up, back on their feet again, and be productive members of society,” he said.

Some inmates are buying in to the program.

“I guess you can say it’s the camaraderie,” said Jerry Arnette, a former member of the Navy. “Being in here, everyone is military. You can talk about your service. You can talk about issues you have had since service. Find out information (from) other service members that can help you out more.”

Arnette was arrested on DUI charges. It was his third offense.

There are about 50,000 veterans living in Pasco County, said Veterans Service Officer Brian Anderson.

The University of South Florida is pitching in with its veteran therapy program. They’ll treat inmates who qualify for the program at no cost.

Inmates who are veterans can qualify for the jail’s program based on how they’re classified in the system. “If we had a serial killer, obviously he wouldn’t be in here,” Revell said.

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