Easy to see: Pennsylvania correctional optical service--improving sight, improving lives.

Author:Meyers, Tracey
Position:Optical Services Labs at SCI-Cambridge Springs

In Venango County in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, State Correctional Institution (SCI)-Cambridge Springs is fast distinguishing itself as one of the nation's leaders in a unique reentry program where inmates are not only improving the vision of many individuals, but are improving their own lives at the same time. Working in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' (PADOC) Vocational Education Bureau and local private optical services companies, the Optical Services Labs at SCI-Cambridge Springs is a full-scale manufacturing lab that produces prescription glasses for all PADOC facilities. The Lab, as it is commonly known, also services the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Southeast Region, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) Norristown State Hospital and other Pennsylvania nonprofit agencies. Currently, the Lab serves 27 PADOC state correctional institutions, two DPW state hospitals and the Pennsylvania DEP. While it employs 23 inmates, there is a waiting list of three to four times that number. A hallmark of the program is that inmates must complete a six-month vocational class before they are eligible to work in the Lab. After completing the vocational training, inmates have an opportunity to take the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) examination to become certified opticians. This certification allows them to practice opticianry anywhere in the U. S.

Rentz--A National staff Award Winner

Pennsylvania Correctional Industries (PCI) Bureau Director Tony Miller oversees the work of the optical lab supervisor, Tony Rentz, and lab foreman, Peter Barron, who help prepare inmates to take the ABO exam. The combined classroom learning and lab experience, using the same kinds of equipment used in commercial optical labs, makes inmates very attractive candidates for jobs in the outside community upon release and reentry. The success in Pennsylvania was on full display earlier this year when Rentz was honored with the National Correctional Industries Association's (NCIA) prestigious National Staff Award at the National Training Conference in Pittsburgh, April 17-20. During the conference, Rentz and Greg Stephenson, PADOC's vocational education instructor, presented a training workshop--called "Bringing the Outside World to Prison"--which was part of the training track "Replicating the Private Industry Environment."

The National Staff Award actually honors the two-part approach of education and...

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