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Yakima Veteran's Incarceration Program
The Yakima County Veteran’s Incarcerated Program (VIP) works with incarcerated Veterans (with non-violent offences) in the Yakima County Department of Corrections jails as well as other jails in the county to successfully reintegrate Veterans back into the community. The Program is managed by Yakima County Department of Human Services and coordinated by the Yakima County Veteran’s Coordinator. The program grows out of both a national and local concern for the number of incarcerated and homeless Veterans with non-violent offences within the criminal justice system. The Board of Yakima County Commissioners endorsed the initiation of the program and created a County position of Veterans Coordinator to direct the program as well as address other Veteran needs within our community. The Veteran’s Coordinator seeks to engage the Veteran while incarcerated to initiate a positive re-entry plan providing greater opportunity to break the chain of re-offending that often happens. This approach has proven successful in King County and other counties. It has been a win-win situation for the Veteran, his family, the legal system, and the community.
The Program Goals
The goal of VIP is to reduce recidivism and to facilitate the successful reintegration of incarcerated Veterans back into our community successfully. The program is a “fast track” effort to help Veterans currently incarcerated or recently released with referral sources available, including services for family members. The VIP takes a holistic approach to reintegrating incarcerated Veterans back into the community. Issues contributing to incarceration are numerous. VIP focuses on connecting Veterans to services that address such issues. Services may include transitional housing, food, health care, mental health care, substance abuse, employment services, and financial services. The Veterans Incarcerated Program will utilize federal, state, and county resources as well as non-government partners within the community to assist incarcerated Veterans. The program provides services supporting release from jail and the Veteran’s return to a healthy and productive life.
The King County Veterans Project has produced credible results by reducing recidivism from 50% to 20% for Veterans in their program. Other like programs has produced solid results by identifying the underlying health and emotional problems precipitating to the incarceration. Necessary support to achieving stabilization in the community will be incorporated in a successful reentry plan. The goal is also to reduce recidivism and create a safer and healthier community. The Department of Human Services partners with agencies such as the Yakima County Department of Corrections, Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health, Washington Department of Veteran Affairs, the Yakima Vet Center, and Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Walla Walla, as well as other community organizations.
Research shows most Veterans enrolled in county jail programs typically are in jail for one or more of the following reasons: possession or sale of drugs; DUI/public intoxication; domestic violence, shoplifting; and/or public nuisance. Many have histories including multiple short-term jobs since military service, and have records of under-employment or unemployment. Many have two or more drug or alcohol treatment program failures.
The most common denominators are untreated mental illness, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), alcohol and drug issues, homelessness, and poverty. The program seeks to intervene while these Veterans are in jail, assess their needs, and connect them to necessary treatment to achieve and maintain a better quality of life post-release.
Partnership is the key to the program’s success. Jail personnel notify the staff when a Veteran arrives at the correctional facility. The inmate can contact the VIP to inquire about the program. VIP staff meets with the Veteran to assess the Veteran for addiction and mental health issues, including PTSD. The VIP staff may advocate for additional assessments to determine the appropriateness of inpatient or outpatient treatment services. For Veterans interested and eligible for the project, VIP staff will assist with developing a release plan and accompany the Veteran to court to advocate for “sentence reduction” or “early release” for entry into a treatment program.
Upon release, VIP Staff assist the Veteran with a wide variety of stabilizing services such as emergency financial assistance, mental health/trauma counseling, employment and skills training assistance, temporary housing, advocacy and other referral services. The Program provides a less expensive alternative to jail and the opportunity for each Veteran to resume a productive life.
The VIP program addresses problems associated with the physical, emotional, economic, and social causes precipitating the incarceration of Veterans. Homelessness, poverty, anger, substance abuse, and mental illness abound in this population. The Program will help Veterans find solutions to these issues in order to return to a healthy, productive life in the community. The program also addresses the high cost of incarceration and high recidivism rate.
In many cases, incarceration is the direct result of an undiagnosed psychological problem. The VIP program refers Veterans for compressive mental health evaluation and counseling. VA PSHCS psychologists diagnose mental health conditions such as bi-polar disorder, major depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia, and treat Veterans referred by the program. Many incarcerated Veterans have a duel diagnosis of substance abuse and mental illness. The Program recognizes research showing drug/alcohol treatment often fails when the underlying mental health issues go untreated, and stresses the need to diagnose and treat both. Referring Veterans to treatment under court control provides and additional incentive for the Veteran to succeed. Poverty and homelessness are challenges. The Program will help Veterans find and sustain housing and employment.
The Veterans Coordinator is located at 128 North Second Street, Yakima County Courthouse, Room 103. The phone number is (509) 574-1528. The incarcerated Veteran should contact the program through the jail kite (in house mail) system by marking the Program box and writing Incarcerated Veterans Program. The kite will be placed in the Veterans mail box in the jail. No collect calls will be accepted. Letters may be sent to Department of Human Services, Attn: VIP, 128 North 2nd Street, Room 102, Yakima, WA 98901.