ALBANY, N.Y. — The military veterans playing cards in the Albany County jail wear the same orange uniforms as everyone else, with "INMATE" printed down the legs. But their service offers one distinct privilege: a special cellblock where they can work through problems they often share, such as substance use and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It's not just us and our thoughts all day," says 31-year-old Navy veteran James Gibson, who was serving a 60-day criminal contempt sentence. "Everybody who's been in here has been in the service. So we can all relate to at least that."

Such "veteran pods" are becoming an increasingly common part of state and county lockups as the criminal justice system focuses more on helping troubled former service members. Veteran inmates are more likely to have reported mental health issues, particularly PTSD, according to a snapshot of the prison population by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Nationwide, veterans accounted for 8 percent of all inmates, and there are at least 86 prisons and jails with designated veterans' housing, according to federal government statistics. Many of the programs were started in the last five years.

Cell blocks for veterans are an increasingly common feature of state and county lockups as the criminal justice system focuses on troubled former service members. Nationwide, there are 86 prisons and jails with designated veterans' housing. (Jan. 10)

Some of the half-dozen veterans' dorms in Florida prisons feature daily flag raisings or monthly formations. Others, like Albany, tend to avoid military trappings. The San Francisco Sheriff's Department offers yoga and meditation and works with a local veterans treatment court. But their common aim is to create an esprit de corps and a "safe space" to help veterans deal with their issues and reintegrate into society.

Sixty-two-year-old Army veteran Roberto James Davis said a two-month stay in veterans housing at San Bruno in the San Francisco Bay area in 2016 helped him change his mindset after decades of arrests and substance use. He now has steady work as a truck driver.

"I really started listening this time around," Davis said. "I was determined that if I got another shot I was going to make the most of it. And I have."

Albany's pod, a Spartan common area flanked by two stories of single-bunk cells, recently housed about a dozen men who served in different branches and in different decades stretching back to the Vietnam War.

Inmates inside Albany County jail's veteran's pod gather for a group session.

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