New prison unit aims to help inmates who are veterans

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ENFIELD--One size does not fit all, or at least that's the thought behind the new Veterans' Unit of the Cybulski Reintegration Center in Enfield.

State leaders unveiled the facility Monday, created to help veterans in prison.

At first glance, it's not obvious the main room is in a prison. Military symbols are painted on the walls, including a Purple Heart and an American flag.

Monday, Gov. Dan Malloy paid a visit to the new unit, which is tailored to the needs of veterans in an attempt to reduce recidivism and help inmates successfully re-enter communities outside these prison walls. Ultimately, that will save taxpayer dollars.

"We're committed to doing everything we can to make sure that you return to society,” Malloy told the unit’s individuals. "A grateful society for your service, as well prepared as you possibly can be."

The unit helps with life skills training, substance abuse treatment, housing, medical insurance, peer support, mentoring among other services.

It's part of Malloy's Second Chance Society Initiative, overhauling the way we look at our criminal justice system.

"When you talk to veterans with criminal backgrounds they will tell you that those were the good days, those were the days that were organized, that had goals,” said Malloy. "What we are attempting to do is call upon some of the best days of these individuals lives."

Robert Smith, a Bridgeport native, has been in the unit for two months. He's an Army veteran who served for three years in D.C. and North Korea.

"It forms a bond,” said Smith. "Everybody is going through the same thing, everybody's been in the same place."

There are more than 16,019 inmates in Connecticut's correctional system. The state estimates 700 are veterans.

Individuals were able to apply for the veteran unit, which holds 110 beds. The unit is open to inmates in all branches of the military, including Reserves and the National Guard.