December 22, 2014

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Sen. Portman urges Obama to expand Second Chance Act

Christopher Jackson shows U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, the room in which inmates write and compose resumes and job search for when they are able to leave prison at the Grafton Correctional Institute on Monday. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Christopher Jackson shows U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, the room in which inmates write and compose resumes and job search for when they are able to leave prison at the Grafton Correctional Institute on Monday. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

GRAFTON — U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, is hoping that correctional institutions, as well as President Barack Obama, will take note of the policies in place at the Grafton Reintegration Center.

Portman touted the center during a visit there Monday to highlight his legislation in support of ex-offenders, reforming prisons and reducing crime. He is working to reauthorize the Second Chance Act, legislation that he authored with the late Cleveland Democrat, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, which passed into law in 2008.

The Second Chance Act aims to reduce prison costs by decreasing recidivism — something that Grafton Reintegration Center has excelled at, according to Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Ohio’s recidivism rate —the rate at which released inmates commit another crime — is approximately 28 percent, well below the national average of 44 percent, said Mohr. He attributed the low rate to innovative procedures in place at Ohio prisons, such as the Grafton Reintegration Center, which allows prisoners to work on community service projects, learn trades and apply for jobs while behind bars.

Oliver Thomas shows Portman the driving simulator at the Grafton Correctional Institute on Monday.

Oliver Thomas shows Portman the driving simulator at the Grafton Correctional Institute on Monday.

Mohr said the programs give inmates an easier transition into life outside of the prison system.

“We need to recognize that these folks are human beings. … Watch what people do when people turn these folks down for jobs, when it becomes so difficult for these people to find housing. We really have developed a second class of citizens, often that people think of as less than human beings,” he said. “The thought here is, when people come into prison, we ought to have a very tangible ladder for them to move up so that they’re ready to go back into the community.”

Lameer Kidd, an inmate at the center, said he is hoping to find a job in videography when he is released. He said several former inmates have found jobs due to the education and apprenticeship programs at Grafton Reintegration Center, in which inmates can earn licenses and study college-level classes.

“Everything that we learn here, we can use for employable skills… All I have to do is get out the gate,” he said.

Kidd said he appreciated Portman’s visit, and the steps that the senator is taking to ensure that the inmates receive an education.

“I think that’s important and encouraging to the guys here, because it seems like someone’s paying attention to what we’re trying to do here, and that would translate out there. That’s what the bottom line is, getting jobs,” he said.

The Second Chance Act has been integral in the operations at the Grafton Reintegration Center, according to Mohr.

The Second Chance Act of 2013 would reauthorize the law for five years and would require periodic audits of grantees to ensure federal money is well spent.

After a tour of the facilities, Portman said Grafton Reintegration Center is a prime example of a successful prison program.

“I was really impressed. I think that this is a program that is doing all of the right things in terms of preparing inmates for what they’re going to face when they get out,” he said.

Portman said he spoke to Obama on Monday and told him about the programs at the Grafton Reintegration Center and North Star Neighborhood Re-entry in Cleveland, which he visited earlier in the day.

Portman said Obama indicated he was supportive of the Second Chance Act of 2013.

“My hope is that this will become a model for other prisons as well, not just in Ohio, but nationally,” Portman said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.