Officials hear plans for prison's shift to recovery regimen

Published by The Athens News

Local and regional government officials, including U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, Ohio University President Duane Nellis and Hocking College President Betty Young, toured the former Southeastern Correctional Complex’s now-shuttered Hocking Unit in Nelsonville last Friday.

The officials received an update from members of the 19-agency Corrections Facility Future Use (CFFUT) task force devoted to turning the former prison into what’s recently been dubbed the “Appalachian Recovery Center project.”

The former Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) facility closed in March, taking with it 430 inmates and 110 local jobs.

Rick Hodges, executive in residence at OU’s College of Health Sciences and Professions, said Tuesday that the new facility – which he said could open sometime in the first half of 2019 – will continue to have an incarceration element, but for the most part, it will be a community-based correctional facility-like environment (or CBCF).

He explained that the second and third floors of the jail space will be managed by the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office, with the area used to hold female-only low-level felons and misdemeanants (around 200 or so). The lower floor of the facility (with around 50 beds) will be the CBCF-like facility operated by STAR Community Justice Center (of Franklin Furnace), with a variety of services combined for female residents, including:

Primary care provided by Hopewell Health Centers; crisis intervention treatment; medically assisted treatment for drug addiction; outpatient therapy for those struggling with addiction; and “exposure to job skills and training.”

Tracy Plouck, a member of both CFFUT and the Health Alliance partnership between OU and the University of Toledo, said those services will be provided by a variety of local agencies, including CFFUT task-force members.

Hodges said the focus on female inmates is because of a serious lack of jail space for women in the region.

“It’s rather dire,” Hodges said. “And also… maternal and child-health issues accompany women that are incarcerated.”

THE TOUR AND CREATION of the task force both came after a meeting hosted by Rep. Stivers at Hocking College earlier this year. Stivers, in a release sent Tuesday, said he’s working on securing grants for the facility to help it open as soon as possible.

“I was excited to tour the site and learn about the continuing progress of repurposing this facility,” Stivers said in the release. “This is more than just a trade-in; it is a trade-up. Not only does this have the potential to alleviate the job loss due to the prison closure; it would provide a desperately needed wrap-around treatment center to make real progress in addressing the opioid epidemic in southeast Ohio. I stand ready to help be a resource in any way that is needed for this project.”

The ODRC has committed to paying roughly $7 million over the next 10 years to rehabilitate the 90,000-square-foot facility.

Stivers’ office in the release noted that the site will be a “multi-use facility.”

“The project… tackles several issues impacting the region, including the need for facilities to jail female misdemeanants and low-level felons, community diversion programs, mental-health treatment, residential in-patient and non-intensive out-patient drug treatment, job training and education, and transitional housing services,” the release says.

Hodges said that the “transitional housing services” aspect is not something that the facility will likely have incorporated in the beginning, but he said that the task force still wants to work to address that issue with the facility in the future.

Hodges said that the Appalachian Regional Commission has provided a roughly $700,000 to $800,000 grant to help fund the start-up of services in the facility, which will feature service providers involved with the CFFUT task force.

Plouck said that the ODRC will need to get renovations under way soon to ensure the facility is up to ODRC jail standards before the facility re-opens.

She added that the jail and CBCF-like facilities will be housed in the main building of the former Correctional Complex; at a later date, one of the outer buildings at that complex could become a facility for male inmates.

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