Clay County jail program offers incarcerated veterans skills to re-enter society

By Scott Johnson and Mary Baer

So far, the program has graduated 2 inmates who have been released, and those former inmates have not re-offended

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – A new program inside the Clay County jail is helping military veterans who are now inmates get the skills they need to re-enter society.

On Tuesday, News4Jax went inside the jail to see the new unit that’s designed for U.S. veterans.

The jail staff has started the program for veterans who have committed crimes and are incarcerated in Clay County. The program offers the inmates the skills they need to re-enter society with the goal they’ll never return to jail.

“One of the key things is acknowledging the fact that some of us do have substance abuse problems as well as mental illness, and until some of those things are addressed, it will be a recurring door for some inmates,” said Stavien Counts, an Army vet who’s behind bars on a battery charge.

Counts is in the unit for veterans, away from the rest of the jail populations and distractions.

“With the programs that they have in place thus far, I think that there are things and tools that we gain from going to these different classes that help us deal with outside situations,” Counts said.

He thinks the new program will keep him from coming back to jail.

“I want to change for me. I can’t change for my wife. I can’t change for my children. I have to want to change for myself. Then you start digging into that closet, and you got to clean out some of those skeletons, but these programs they have in place help you to do that,” Counts said. “I do think that once they get enough feedback from us and enough help from outside sources that this program can actually do a lot of good for veterans and preventing us from making the same mistakes and coming back.”

Clay County Sheriff’s Office leadership feels the program honors veterans and cuts down on crime in the long run.

“We’re constantly looking for different ways that we can get as much out of the inmates as they’re willing to give us, so we can give them tools that when they do integrate back into society, they don’t want to re-offend,” said Director of Detention Chris Coldiron, a Navy veteran. “So in here, the idea is everybody come together. You can tell some stories about what you did in the military. You get the camaraderie of everyone that’s in here.”

Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook envisions relationships forming to propel incarcerated inmates to succeed on the outside.

“Ideally through this program and through the relationships that we build in this dorm, we can keep folks from coming back, from being incarcerated,” Cook said.

But not every veteran gets in.

“We’re working to identify who the veterans are. We look for their discharge types and statuses and we want them to apply. We want this to be something you have to kind a work toward getting into,” Coldiron said.

So far, the program has graduated two inmates who have been released, and those former inmates have not re-offended.

Currently, there are eight inmates in the program, but the Sheriff’s Office is looking to make it grow well beyond that number.

The Sheriff’s Office said it welcomes community involvement in the new unit for veterans. Organizations, groups and individuals interested in helping the Sheriff’s Office in the program are asked to email