ORIENT – Pickaway Correctional Institution is preparing its inmates for a successful transition into society with its new A-Unit Reintegration Dorm.
The dorm houses about 260 of the more than 2,000 inmates at the facility. The inmates living there range from drug offenders to murderers, but all have demonstrated a desire to make a positive change in their lives.
"I truly believe most folks who are in here want to turn their lives around," said Stephen J. Huffman, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. "They need support, a job and a place to stay. This helps give them that."
The program is meant to provide new skills to the inmates in a positive atmosphere so they can return to society with the confidence they need to start a career and become productive members of society.
The reintegration dorm is different than the other prison dorms as it features study lounges, plant life, colored walls, inspirational and therapeutic wall hangings, computer labs, a library, a barbershop, vending machines, lockers and 8-inch thick mattresses, a true luxury in the prison world.
The inmates who are accepted into the program must choose a "pathway," an area in their lives on which they need to focus to be successful post-release.
Such pathways address mental, physical and emotional health; addiction recovery; religion; education; skill-building; community service; and family and relationships.
Unlike the general inmate population, the men who live in the dorm have strict schedules that include involvement in eight hours of meaningful activities, such as working, studying or volunteering.
"We want to make it like they are in a community," said unit manager Sherri Rose. "We want them to practice that before they get out."
Inmates are also taught leadership within the program. They have the opportunity to be advisors to new inmates entering the dorm and follow a hierarchy where they handle conflicts among themselves before getting prison staff involved.
One such leader is Myron, an inmate who we are identifying only by his first name at the request of the prison. Sentenced at age 15, he has served 38 years of a life sentence for aggravated robbery and aggravated murder.
"Reintegration is the best thing I've seen since I've been locked up," he said. "I'm involved for no other benefit than the sheer joy of helping these young guys so they don't end up like me."
Another inmate, Larry, who is serving six and a half years for drug trafficking and theft, said his months in reintegration have taught him more than the last 10 years of his life.
"Every prison needs reintegration," he said.
Huffman said the ODRC plans to expand the reintegration program to different prisons in the state, and Pickaway Correctional Institution will eventually become entirely reintegration-focused.
The premise of the reintegration concept began in early 2012 as part of the ODRC's 3-Tier Unit Managed Prison System, comprised of high-security control units, general population units and reintegration centers.
According to the ODRC, the structure allows the agency to focus on violence reduction within prisons and its mission to reduce offender recidivism, which is currently at an all-time low of 31.2 percent in the state.