With the goal to create a peaceful environment in order to prepare inmates for a return to society, a faith and character based dormitory for inmates committed to positive behavior and self-improvement opened last week at the McCormick Correctional Institution. The dormitory is the first of its kind in a maximum-security prison in the state. Volunteers are essential to the program that provides classes and activities that focus on personal responsibility, life skills, anger resolution, addictions treatment, and parenting. State Corrections Department Director Jon Ozmint says the dormitory is based on a similar program that has been conducted in Florida for 10 years.
Right now, there are 110 inmates in the program who occupy half of one 256-bed dormitory at McCormick. Ozmint says if the program is successful he anticipates other prisons adopting the program and the future development of a faith and character based prison.
(Ozmint on faith program MP3 1:55)
Ozmint points out that inmate participation is voluntary, and acceptance is based on inmates disciplinary histories and sentence length. Inmates must have between 18 months and seven years left to serve, or be serving a life sentence. They do not have to belong to a certain religious faith to participate in the program. Inmates are also encouraged to participate in GED education, vocational training and work skills assessment.
Ozmint says he wants a certain continuity to the makeup of the program’s participants. He would like to see men who have longer sentences and those who are older. He says the older inmates can serve as mentors to the younger inmates who are in need of guidance, who need to get on a track that will allow them to make a successful transition back into society.
Ozmint says that South Carolina’s prison system is no different than any other state prison system in that cells are teaming with young men 18 to 26, and he says it is important that these young men get a chance to change their respective life courses. Ozmint says that is why it’s essential that older inmates serve as willing participants in the program.
Ozmint says the inmates in the program will still associate with the general prison population during their daily activities, especially during work hours.