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Volunteerism strong at women's prison

Published Jan. 26, 2012

Other prisons can't match HCI's volunteerism

On Jan. 11, Warden Smith received the call from the Department of Corrections that Hillsborough Correctional Institution was closing and the inmate population would be shipped to other distant prisons beginning Feb. 1.

Last March, a group of four grannies from Sun City Center and two alumni of HCI went to Tallahassee to lobby the closing expected to begin April 1, 2011. That closure was miraculously discontinued and the facility received a No. 1 award for highest number of volunteers and highest volunteer hours.

This is all about money: HCI saves taxpayer dollars. We have the lowest recidivism rate in the state. How much would it cost to continue re-entry? Two Hillsborough Inmate Work Squads saved the county $275,586 and at least another squad has been requested. The University of Florida Research Center squads saved the state approximately $300,000. The Sewing Class, "Crafts with Convictions," in less than one year of production, supplied Hillsborough Educational Foundation with over $200,000 worth of sewing and paper products.

Volunteers have secured $15,000 worth of grant and private monies recently for programs and maintenance. The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved June 7 to allow for an increase to 486 inmates to lower inmate per diem rates. On Jan. 5, the BOCC unanimously approved to negotiate with the state for wastewater hookup to work toward continued facility improvements.

Discrimination against female inmates: HCI is the only fully faith/character prison for females in the state and was the first in the nation in 2004. Male inmates have three similar facilities. There is no other facility for women in the state and perhaps the nation with over 500 volunteers, and in the month of November, it had 2,297 volunteer hours. The "jewel" of HCI is a mentoring program where 200 of 300 inmates are served. With an upcoming Jan. 28 volunteer orientation, we could have 100 percent of the inmates with an accountability mentoring volunteer. This will not happen at a 3,000 mega "warehouse" called Lowell Correctional Institution, nor at smaller facilities with minimal volunteerism.

Show us proof that mega facilities have low recidivism rates with women returning to society with enhanced self-esteem?

Nancy Williams, Sun City Center, 2004 HCI Charter Volunteer