Rikers Island opens housing unit exclusively for military veterans

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Reporter Danielle Leigh has the latest on the new initiative

The New York City Department of Correction officially unveiled its first housing unit exclusively for military veterans on Rikers Island on Thursday.

The 50-bed unit opened in February and is currently occupied by 17 inmates awaiting trial.

Formerly a general housing unit, this veterans' dorm will include programs and services specifically geared toward meeting veterans' needs, including skill development sessions, anger management counseling and mindfulness meditations designed to help with stress and reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I feel like this is a second chance for me," said Matteo Bonomo, an Army veteran awaiting trial on burglary charges. "It's helping me become a better person."

The correction officers overseeing the housing unit are also veterans themselves.

Officer Jeffrey Wright still serves in the National Guard.

"I do love my job," Wright said. "Now that I'm here, I get to help these guys here as much as I possibly can."

The new unit follows a growing trend. According to DOC, more than 80 similar units have opened in jails and prisons around the country and boast lower recidivism rates than other general housing units.

"Our veterans have done so much for our country," said Dr. Nichole Adams, DOC Deputy Commissioner of Health Affairs. "So, we celebrate the opportunity to help them get back to where they want to be."

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