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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Prison evolves, retains mission

Tony Holt Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:51 PM

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The Hernando Correctional Institution has undergone numerous transformations during the past 50 years.

It went from a roadside men's prison to an all-female facility.

This year, it has transitioned to an adult population with faith- and character-based dormitories. Gone are the youthful offenders.

The first goal of the institution — rehabilitation — hasn't been forgotten. If nothing else, it has grown deeper roots.

Rod James is the warden at the Hernando facility along Spring Hill Drive. He spoke to members of the public Thursday during an open-house visit, in which he gave anecdotes that offered proof that inmates can acquire the necessary tools to be successful citizens.

James has always told inmates that a "made-up mind" is a person's most powerful weapon.

One day, while Christmas shopping at Walmart, he felt a hard tap on his shoulder. James didn't recognize the man.

"Who are you?" he asked him.

"A man with a made-up mind," the man told him. "I'm a different man now."

He was living a productive life, one consisting of sobriety, steady employment and fatherhood. He has been among many who have approached James thanking him for their positive experiences while housed at his correctional facilities.

The Hernando Correctional Institution, located across the street from the Hernando County Jail, has integrated a variety of religious, education and work-release programs.

The men and women who head those programs stood up and spoke to the guests during Thursday's open house at the chapel. The series of presentations was followed by a tour of the 13-acre prison.

Among the guests were members of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, as well as local educators, counselors and pastors.

Inmates are offered vocational instructions, which come in handy for those inmates who prior to being incarcerated "never learned how to use a plunger," one of the program directors said.

Web and digital design and library services also are available to inmates.

Some of the educational programs include general educational development (GED) preparation, literacy lessons and college courses. In 2011 and 2012, about 54 inmates earned their GEDs.

Kelly Matthews, who heads the educational services at the prison, said the goal is making sure inmates leave the prison system as "taxpaying, contributing members of society."

There are about 450 inmates housed at the level-two facility. It employs about 120 people, according to the state.

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