ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Director Gary Mohr, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, visited the Belmont Correctional Institute to tour the grounds and reach out to the surrounding community to share results of system reforms and ask for support during a Community Criminal Justice Day.
A total of 24 local community members and leaders were invited in to view the inmates' environment and activities. Agencies included ODOT, ODNR, Belmont College, and Habitat for Humanity.
Mohr said that the county's facility stands out. This weekend in Colorado the Belmont Correctional Institution earned an American Correctional Association Reaccreditation Award after a three-day audit, having been found in compliance of audit standards.
Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr getting a haircut from Greg Myers at Belmont Correctional Institution (BeCI). Myers graduated from the Vocational Barber School at BeCI and is now a licensed barber.
"It is a great honor to be recognized," said Warden Michele Miller, noting that they were one of only nine facilities in the state to earn reaccreditation.
"I was very proud to be the director of a facility like Belmont," Mohr said.
Mohr noted Ohio's corrections department is one of very few states to include the word 'rehabilitation' in its title. He said rehabilitation is a core principle of the department's philosophy and added that there is a statewide focus on increasing meaningful activity for inmates.
"Our mission is to reduce recidivism. We want to reduce the victims of crime in Ohio," he said.
Miller added that system reforms have resulted in a reduction of violent incidents. She said inmates were treated individually and uniquely with a system that rewards positive behavior and penalizes negative behavior with restrictions while keeping options and opportunities for improvement available.
"It is very much a necessity to ensure that the offenders are rehabilitated and go back into society better than what they came when they were incarcerated," she said.
Miller added that the institute is always looking for volunteers to assist with their programs.
"Volunteers are a needed necessity to ensure that we are offering as many programs as we can, and offering programs that are beneficial to the offender for self-improvement," she said. "We feel it is imperative that the community get involved with our offenders prior to their release."
She said the Belmont County Re-entry Coalition has been valuable in visiting inmates prior to release, discussing their needs and plans, and mentoring them.
"We like to offer a sense of hope," she said.
Miller said one initiative evident in the institute's garden is the turf management program. In the course of applying vocational skills outside, offenders learn design and layout techniques, necessary materials, and costs should they consider entrepreneurship upon release. The program has been active at the Fox Shannon Park, St. Clairsville Bike Trail, and Salt Fork State Park cleaning debris from recent thunderstorms. They also donate produce to charities and soup kitchens.
Another popular program is the institute's barber school, which has been active since before 2000. Miller said every student who completes the school's 700 hours has received licensure. They are tested by representatives of the state barber board and are released with an applicable job skill.
Mohr received a haircut from a graduate inmate during his the visit.
Other vocational programs include plumbing, administrative office technology, and a fully-functioning OPI toilet paper factory.
"It's a factory job," Miller said.
Mohr added that 18 months ago his agency consumed 6.1 percent of the states GRF budget. This has since been reduced to 5.2 percent, by $188 million.
Mohr said he has worked with the legislature during the past 18 months to support programs and changes to the system. He pointed to House Bill 86 in the field of sentencing reform, which includes a certificate of achievement and employability, which enhances their ability to obtain employment while granting employers immunity for improper hiring.
Also, the Senate Bill 337 looks at collateral consequences of individual crimes and allows judges to issue certificates of qualification for employment. These would allow deserving offenders to compete for some jobs that their crime would otherwise preclude.
Mohr noted the importance in motivation and an investment in the future in helping offenders return to a law-abiding life.
Other programs include marriage counseling and Fathers Matter, which reinforces relationships by keep families in contact and making inmates with families aware of their lives outside.
"These kind of encounters help transitions," Mohr said, noting the importance of acclimating inmates to life outside as their release date approaches. "What we are trying to get done here is to transist these people from prison to the community by reintegrating them with their family and getting them ready for a job."
Other programs include victims awareness, Thinking for a Change, and Responsible Family Life Skills.
"Part of our responsibility is to build responsibility with our offenders," Miller said.
Mohr noted that although the institution is crowded, inmate numbers are at a low comparable to 2007.
Miller said the designed capacity for the facility is 1,240. Current inmate population is 2,700, but it also operates a camp for 500 inmates so only 2,200 normally stay on the grounds.
Incidents of group violence has been reduced by 25 percent, with 521 less violent events statewide in the first six months of 2012.
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