It’s clear that the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail lacks enough beds for its inmates, but the problem is even clearer when it comes to beds for female inmates at that facility in Nelsonville.
The number of women being incarcerated in Athens County, and across the state, has increased in recent decades, almost in tandem with Ohio’s opioid and methamphetamine drug-addiction crises.
As The NEWS reported Monday, the SEORJ only has about 40 beds for women inside of two dormitories, despite state standards for the size of those dormitories suggesting that there’s only enough room for 24 beds.
With that issue in mind, the state of Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC), along with a consortium of local experts, plans to repurpose a former prison facility in Nelsonville to provide a treatment and jail facility for female inmates only.
The former facility – the Hocking Unit of the Southeastern Correctional Complex – was closed early last year by the state, taking with it 110 local jobs and 430 inmates.
Rick Hodges, executive in residence at Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences & Professions, said in an interview earlier this month that the plans to repurpose the former prison facility, called the Appalachian Recovery Project (ARP), are under way. Hodges directs the ARP.
That facility will have three floors, with 105 beds on each floor, all of them meant for female offenders. As planned, it will be operated by the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office.
Hodges and others involved with the project are careful to say that the programming has not been worked out yet completely for the facility. The current ideas call for:
• The first floor to be a community-based correctional facility that likely will be operated by STAR Community Justice Center of Franklin Furnace (which currently operates the former SEPTA Center in Nelsonville, now called STAR Community Justice Center – Athens County campus). STAR has not received that contract yet.
• The second floor will be a “mixed-culture” jail with possible community-based correctional facility elements.
• The third floor will be a jail for female misdemeanants and felons awaiting trial.
David Valkinburg, chief deputy at the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office, explained this week that the entire ARP project presents a holistic approach to criminal justice. Anybody incarcerated at the facility likely will have access to a variety of drug treatment, mental-health assistance, and job training and re-entry services designed to help the inmates get their lives back on track, he said.
Valkinburg added that those inmates placed on the second floor of the facility probably will be identified through an intake process as “good candidates for treatment,” so drug treatment and rehabilitation services likely will be “more intensive” on that floor.
The goal is to “get the treatment process started before sentencing,” Valkinburg said, “so we can get going on those sorts of things.”
The treatment and other services likely will be provided by local agencies for the counties served by the ARP facility. There also might be the possibility of partnering with local colleges, including Hocking College (which is close to the facility), to provide educational services to inmates at the facility.
Hodges previously said that the five counties served by SEORJ, including Athens, will receive “preferred pricing” and access to a certain amount of bed space at the ARP facility, without being obligated to take those beds.
Athens County Common Pleas Judge George McCarthy said in an interview earlier this year that he is concerned about the idea that the facility’s CBCF probably will be available only to females who are misdemeanants, as opposed to felony offenders.
“We have a big problem… placing felony women in felony CBCFs because of capacity as well,” McCarthy said.
Valkinburg said in the interview that the state’s DRC made the decision for the ARP facility to address female inmates only because they did not want to “cause harm” to the SEORJ’s ability to house inmates.
He added that the CBCF component is meant to address criminal behavior before it reaches the felony level.
“There’s a lot of programs for felons, but how do you catch them before they become felons?” he said. “…It’s harder for (felons) to get a job, things like that, so (if) we can catch people while they’re just committing misdemeanors and kind of turn them around, that (will help)…”
Charles Philabaun, director of STAR Community Justice Center, said in an email this Tuesday that “nothing has been finalized” in terms of programming for the facility, and said that the ARP working group is still meeting and “trying to figure out what is best for the population that will be entrusted to our care.” He provided a copy of a programming model that STAR has offered as a potential model for the ARP project on its first floor.
“As far as the second floor goes, we have offered to train correctional officers in our behavioral management treatment model,” Philabaun added.
The model includes a variety of different classes for groups of offenders, including sessions on anger management, drug and alcohol education, “partners in parenting,” employability skills, and a lot more, with a variety of specialists involved in working with the potential inmates.
So far, Hodges said that an architect has been chosen for the facility, but it’s not clear when construction will start. The ODRC has committed to paying roughly $7 million over the next 10 years to rehabilitate the 90,000-square-foot facility.