Prison Transformation Under Way by Jeremy Maready

Posted: January 4, 2011 in News and politics

Polk Correctional Institution’s Transformation Underway

Inmates being transferred in phases elsewhere in state as Polk City facility changes focus to reducing recidivism.

Published: Friday, November 26, 2010 at 11:44 p.m.

 

 

POLK CITY | Polk Correctional Institution’s conversion from traditional prison into one that helps get inmates ready to rejoin society is underway and scheduled to be complete by February, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.

During the transition, the Polk City prison’s 800 inmates will be sent in phases to other facilities around the state, and inmates who are within three years of their release to the Polk, Hillsborough and Pinellas county areas, will be transferred to Polk Correctional.

“Inmates are gradually being transferred from Polk Correctional Institution to other state prisons,” said corrections spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff. “These transfers are required due to the changing mission of Polk Correctional Institution from a general population facility to that of our newest re-entry facility.”

When the change in the facility is complete, the prison will still have 800 inmates, and none of its 410 staff members will lose their jobs, officials said.

The change is aimed at reducing the prison system’s recidivism rate by offering programs that help prepare inmates for release, corrections officials said.

Some of those programs, which are expected to expand, include a 100-hour transition program; anger- and stress-management classes; a growth group for sex offenders; men’s character building; Alcoholic’s and Narcotics Anonymous programs; wellness education; and classes in automotive service, computer electronics, plumbing and construction project coordinator.

“Many of the programs we offer now will remain,” Polk Correctional warden Ronnie Edwards said.

The programs offered, which are aided by numerous volunteers, provide a vital role in helping inmates prepare for life outside of prison, Edwards said.

“When they get out of prison, a lot of them (inmates) don’t have a Social Security card or a birth certificate,” he said. “Those are things they need to get a job. These are some of the things the programs focus on. We want them to have everything they need when they step out of that door.”

Inmates who are enrolled in GED and substance abuse programs at the prison will be allowed to stay until they complete the programs, Rackleff said.

While the change of structure in the prison is good news for inmates nearing their release date, it also means greater hardships for those who have to travel longer distances to visit their loved ones.

“The department (of corrections) regrets that visitation may be adversely affected for some inmates being transferred out of the Central Florida area,” Rackleff said. “While maintaining family contact is very important, it will not be possible to place all inmates in close proximity to Polk (Correctional).”

Edwards said the prison has received some calls of concern for those who have been transferred to other prisons, but those calls are few.

“Most call the central office,” he said. “They handle the moving. But we have received some.”

Edwards said the incoming inmates preparing for re-entry will be closer to their loved ones, since most of them come from this area and were sentenced here. “I think it’s a big benefit for the families.”

After existing Polk inmates are transferred to another facility and are eligible, they can request a good adjustment transfer, Rackleff said.

“If approved for a good adjustment transfer, however, there should be no expectation of immediate transfer back to the Central Florida area,” she continued. “Any inmate approved for a good adjustment transfer will be placed on the transfer pending list and will be scheduled for transfer in order of approval when suitable bed space becomes available.”

[ Jeremy Maready can be reached at 863-802-7592 or jeremy.maready@theledger.com. ]

This story appeared in print on page B1

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