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The Daily



06-25-03: An opportunity W.O.R.T.H. taking for area   offenders
Editor's note: The Daily Standard used fictitious names for the W.O.R.T.H. Center residents interviewed for this story, in order to protect their privacy.
The Daily Standard
    LIMA - The young man stared out the window of the Lima community corrections center, pausing frequently as he spoke about the people he let down and the changes he now must make.
    "It's hard to talk to my family. I don't feel like I want to ask for their forgiveness," said Joe, a 19-year-old Auglaize County resident who is beginning his third month of incarceration. "I need to prove to them I've changed."
    Changing the behaviors and lifestyles of convicted felons has been the job of the Western Ohio Regional Treatment and Habilitation (W.O.R.T.H.) Center in Lima since it opened its doors 10 years ago. The center incarcerates convicted felons 18 and over, while providing counseling, education and other opportunities.
    This week the staff is celebrating the center's 10-year milestone publicly with an open house slated for Thursday.
    Most residents, like Joe, are first time offenders and typically serve a four- to six-month in-house term following a felony conviction. Sometimes a judge orders the convicted men and women to enter W.O.R.T.H. instead of prison, sometimes it's the felon's choice.
    Of those interviewed for this story, all were grateful for the chance to avoid prison.
    "The way I see it, in my eyes, I'd rather do this than be sitting over there," said 21-year-old Neal, as he motioned down the road to the Allen County, Oakwood and Lima prison systems.
    Brad, a 19-year-old Mercer County teen, blames his criminal conviction on an alcohol addiction he says he has given up for a better life. He shared his dreams - he wants to become a mechanic when he is released.
    "When you first start dealing with being in here ... your freedoms are just gone," he said. "If you weigh it out, what got taken away, it definitely wasn't worth it."
    The Lima W.O.R.T.H. facility, one of 18 such institutions in the state, is located a few miles west of Interstate 75. Remarkably, there are no custodians on staff - the residents do it all. W.O.R.T.H. can house a maximum 70 men and 24 women, and is usually full. Last year, 9.5 percent of the population was from Mercer County and 11.8 percent from Auglaize County.
    The center has more than 50 trained staff members and receives its funds from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. Its residents come from Mercer, Auglaize, Van Wert, Shelby, Putnam, Paulding, Hardin, Hancock, and Allen counties.
    A judge from each county is represented on W.O.R.T.H.'s judicial corrections board - Judge Jeffrey Ingraham holds the position from Mercer County; Judge Frederick Pepple from Auglaize County.
    Sandy Monfort, the facility's executive director, said a resident once told her, "It's a shame you have to commit a crime to come here." The young lady told Monfort she wished W.O.R.T.H.'s programs had been available to her sooner.
    Monfort said some of the programs at the center are available to schools and other community agencies. One such program, hailed by several residents who spoke to The Daily Standard, is Thinking for a Change, which teaches problem-solving skills and how to avoid impulse reactions.
    "I think many of the programs we offer would be beneficial to just about anyone, not just those in here," she added.
    The successes of community-based residential treatment facilities in Ohio, such as W.O.R.T.H., are shown in a recent study completed by the University of Akron. The study found:
    - There appears to be less recidivism for clients who do their time in places like W.O.R.T.H., versus prison.
    - Inmates in community corrections generally stay under the control of the state for shorter periods of time than those in jail or prisons.
    - Community corrections programs are, on the whole, much cheaper to operate than prisons, saving the state (taxpayers) between $2,000-$11,000 per person.
    Kathy, 20, also from Mercer County, ironically has been toying with the idea of entering the criminal justice field herself. She feels the staff's method of dealing with her behavior, not just her problem with alcohol and drugs, has helped her immensely.
    However, Kathy disagrees with some of the center's rules, particularly the one that prohibits the sharing of items among inmates.
    Donald Bolinger, operations director for the facility, said most of the rules, like asking permission to go to the bathroom, are "petty ones" and are enforced solely for security reasons.
    Bolinger, a former U.S. Army sergeant who fits well in the paramilitary atmosphere, said the toughest part of his job is convincing the residents - the majority in their 20s - how good they have it while they're there.
    "This is an opportunity of a lifetime. These rules are simple," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to get them to see that."
    Residents are evaluated when they walk in the door, and those without a GED (high school diploma equivalency) can work to obtain one while there. But classes and counseling are not all the center provides. Residents who have completed most of their tailored programs and have earned the staff's trust, have the opportunity to work outside the facility, under supervision, for agencies such as Habitat for Humanity or the Red Cross.
    Monfort takes a genuine interest in her clients, and speaks to each by name. And even though she knows her staff can't insure 100 percent success, she won't stop seeking it for the men and women who walk through the doors daily.
    "They're all somebody's brother, sister, mother, father, son or daughter. They have family and friends back home who care about them and need them," she said. "This works, we know it works. And we need to give them all our best shot."


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