THE OHIO Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has a soft side. As a result, some prisoners get to spend quality time with their families.
The Belmont Correctional Institution in St. Clairsville is one of the state's lockups bringing its inmates and their families together. Twice a year, the medium-security facility holds an event where incarcerated dads can reunite with their children for an afternoon of fun. These "Fathers Matter" days are a change from normal visits, which typically are 2 1/2 hours and spent playing cards or shooting the breeze over a table.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction places great emphasis on rehabilitation. Correction officials believe these visits lead to lower recidivism rate among inmates. They may be accurate as the state's recidivism rate is 22.6 percentage points lower than the national figure.
Inmates must earn their right into the Fathers Matter event. They need to apply and not have violated a prison rule for a year.
Under those guidelines, only some 50 prisoners at the St. Clairsville facility were able to be privy to meeting with their families. Such a requirement helps with the rehabbing process.
An estimated 56,000 Ohio children have a parent behind bars. That makes for a large amount of disjointed families, reinforcing the importance of the Fathers Matter program.
Studies indicate that parental incarceration can lead to separation anxiety, detachment, aggression, violence, truancy and stunted academic achievement. Children with parents who have served time are also six times more likely than their peers to be an offender.
The family visits can serve a dual purpose. Those incarcerated renew their attachment with their families, keeping them on the straight and narrow.
Just as importantly, children of those incarcerated are exposed to the consequences of running afoul with the law. It serves as a great eye opener.
Similar programs are popping up in other state prisons for women.
Prison time should not be simply to punish law-breakers, but to also rehabilitate in order a productive life upon release. The Fathers Matter program is a vehicle to make that happen.