The state on Wednesday opened the latest prison unit aimed at better integrating Ohio inmates back into society by giving them constructive activities eight to 12 hours a day.
About 70 prisoners at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution eligible for the program can take classes through Ashland University, work on a prison farm, help build state salt trucks or participate in substance abuse counseling or religious programs.
Chillicothe's reintegration unit opened Wednesday morning with remarks by warden Norm Robinson.
"We're not force feeding them programs," Robinson said in an interview Tuesday before the opening. "We're giving people the opportunity to make good decisions."
Inmates need the real-life experience of working eight hours a day and figuring how to balance work and personal activities, said Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
That includes taking inmates who may have spotty prison records but who have worked their way up to a point where they can take advantage of the program, he said.
"It is a poor public safety practice to release angry people back into neighborhoods," Mohr said.
Statewide, other programs inmates can participate in prepare them for a possible military career, require community service or teach a variety of job skills, from building maintenance to graphic arts.
Programs also offer family relationship skills, pursuit of a GED or adult education or a focus on mental and physical health.
The units are developed to resemble life on the outside as much as possible. Inmates must sign a contract to participate. They can opt out after three weeks and return to regular prison life if they want.
To date, the state has opened similar centers at Grafton Correctional Institution, the Northeast Pre-Release Center in Cleveland, the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield, Pickaway Correctional Institution in Orient, Southeastern Correctional Complex in Nelsonville, and Belmont Correctional Institution in St. Clairsville.