By Peter H. Milliken
A pilot program gives probationers living in a half-way house on-the-job training in institutional food service while the state pays them to cook meals for Ohio State Penitentiary inmates.
Fourteen clients of the nonprofit Community Corrections Association on Market Street who are either on probation or in a post-prison transition program are shuttled daily in a van for two shifts of food service at the Supermax prison, the first beginning at 4:30 a.m.
Working in the basement of the state prison on the city’s East Side, the CCA residents prepare three meals a day, seven days a week, with corrections officers delivering the food to about 500 top-security inmates in their cells.
Three additional CCA clients perform janitorial services at the prison under the one-year agreement between the prison and CCA that took effect in September.
“It gives you a chance to get back on your feet,” Christopher Guy, one of the janitors from CCA working at the Supermax, said of the program.
“It gives us a chance to prove to the community that we have what it takes to re-enter society and be trusted doing it,” he added. Guy will be enrolled in the CCA program until February.
Neither the cooks nor the janitors from Community Corrections have any contact with the Supermax inmates. OSP is the state’s highest-security prison.
The transitional work program for probationers is the brainchild of OSP Warden David Bobby, who once worked at Community Corrections.
“Sixty days after they’re done with supervision from CCA, we want them to go and find another position somewhere else,” the warden said. “Part of it is for them to get some work skills and some good work habits.
“Even while they’re here, my expectation is that they continue to pursue other employment,” he added. The average CCA client in this program likely will work at the Supermax for about six months, the warden said.
“The goal is that these guys come here, get some work experience, earn some money and go and be productive members of society,” the warden said. “We ask the community to hire these ex-offenders, so to do our share, I think it’s only prudent that we do the same thing,” he added.
One of the goals of the correctional system is to get offenders “to integrate back into the community successfully, and part of that success is having a job to be able to take care of themselves,” said Betty McDonough, deputy warden.
“It’s a win-win because we had a need for workers [to cook and clean], and we want to get everybody back into society, and
these guys are very appreciative of the opportunity,” said John Severn, prison food-service manager.
“They’re supervised and evaluated by the prison staff out there,” Dr. Richard Billak, chief executive officer at CCA, said of his agency’s clients.
The workers from Community Corrections are classified as temporary employees and earn $12 to $14 an hour, with 25 percent of their wages withheld to pay prison system costs.
“Almost all research shows the best thing you can do to reduce recidivism [repeated criminal activity] is to have them employed,” Billak said of ex-offenders.
The training the CCA cooks receive in institu-tional food service at the Supermax prepares them to work in hospital, nursing home and educational institutional food service, Billak said.
“The [CCA] residents are well-receptive to it. They enjoy going to work. I haven’t had anyone call off sick,” said Lawrence Androsek, CCA vocational specialist.
“When they leave us, they’re walking out the door with thousands of dollars in their pockets to either set up independent living or to go back to family and loved ones,” said Jeremy Simpson, CCA’s chief operations officer.
That’s because CCA clients don’t pay for food, lodging and utilities while they live in the half-way house, he explained.
When they’re not working at the Supermax, the Community Corrections residents are engaged in alcohol and drug addiction treatment, General Educational Development preparation, and other self-improvement programs.
The agreement with CCA fills a void left by the closing this fall of the 240-bed satellite prison on the OSP grounds, whose minimum-security inmates used to perform the cooking and janitorial functions for the Supermax, Billak explained.
The satellite prison is now a vacant building, he added.
The warden said the closing of that facility will save the state about $1.5 million a year.
Minimum-security inmates in the satellite prison went to a similar facility at Grafton and other state prison camps; and the staff of the satellite prison was absorbed into the Supermax building, Bobby said.
JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the closing of the OSP’s low-level satellite facility this year and four others like it last year caused no staff layoffs and that the CCA clients “are not displacing any other workers.”