Christine Stuart photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was applauded Monday by the 110 inmates in the newly established veterans’ unit at the Cybulski Reintegration Center.

The center was created as part of Malloy’s Second Chance Society and the veterans’ unit, which the governor toured Monday, opened on Oct. 1.

Christine Stuart photo

James Tatum, an inmate who served in the Air Force before getting in trouble with the law, told Malloy that when he got out of the military he fell on hard times. However, he was young and unaware of the services available to him as a veteran.

Tatum appreciates the new program, which is designed to prepare inmates to re-enter society with the skills they need to get a job.

“They painted a line for me to follow. I’d be a fool not to follow it,” Tatum said.

Malloy thanked the men for their service and acknowledged it’s “weird” to be talking about the freedom they fought for in a prison setting where they aren’t free.

There are 693 veterans in Connecticut’s prison system and the 110 are the first class to experience the program, which offers camaraderie, skills training and substance abuse treatment.

“We think this program should be replicated, but you have to help us prove it,” Malloy told the inmates.

He asked them to call upon their better days when they were in the military and successful.

“Let’s make a new connection,” Malloy said.

He also urged them to “make us look good.”

Robert Smith, an inmate who was in the Army, said the program allowed him to be “optimistic” for the first time in the seven months he’s been there.

The unit has a military theme and the seals of each military branch are painted on the wall of the housing unit. There is also access to peering counseling from other vets who have been to prison.

“What we’re attempting to do is call upon the best days of these individuals’ lives,” Malloy said.

He said those days are the days they served their country in the military.

“Those were the days that were organized, that had goals,” he said. “And had a system of measurement.”

He said the idea behind the unit is not to prepare someone to go out into broader society, but actually preparing them by “helping them call on those better days.”

“People make mistakes that they can recover from. We should support them in that recovery,” Malloy said.

The veterans’ unit was modeled after one in Pennsylvania.

Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple said the veterans accepted to the program are the ones they believe will benefit most from the program. They are primarily focused on offenders with two years or less on their sentence, but are open to considering others.

Services provided at the unit will be a blend of Correction Department programs and community-based supports, “in-reach” efforts, and engagement to provide continuity of care from incarceration and throughout the transition to society.

The announcement of this new unit comes days after Malloy started a policy conversation about how the state can build upon the Second Chance Society reforms, including raising the age of the juvenile justice systems jurisdiction, creating a new approach for low-risk young offenders between the ages of 21 and 25, and exploring bail bond reform.