The evolution of HOPE: Expanding Ohio's reentry initiative.

Author:Rossvanes, Chris

The word "hope" implies an expectation and desire for something positive or productive to happen. This single word has become a cornerstone theme of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC). With the launch of the HOPE (Helping Ohio Prisoners Excel) Channel--an offender-driven broadcasting platform--ODRC put a vision into motion to instill an expectation and desire in offenders to discover a more substantial purpose and meaning for their lives, to utilize their incarceration as a time of training and skill-building, and to establish the goal of successfully navigating the complex road of reentry into society. This term has come to represent the collective mindset of offenders and corrections professionals in Ohio's prisons and adult parole offices. One would be hard-pressed to find an offender or staff member across the state who does not know the importance of the word "hope."

The HOPE Channel made its debut at the beginning of 2014. The vision offered a "thinking outside the box" approach to corrections and rehabilitation practices. With this, ODRC aimed at providing a fresh and much-needed emphasis on life after prison, a concept commonly known as reentry, by connecting offenders to the communities from which they came prior to their release. They originally intended to broadcast information about reentry resources to offenders preparing for release. From there, it grew. Various community agencies partnered with ODRC to get their message to offenders, offering them information on how to link to services postrelease, including housing options, accessing mental health and recovery services, obtaining an ID, getting information on Social Security, etc.

In addition to reentry resources, the channel produced one program called "Outlook," which allowed a panel of offenders to assemble and discuss current events. The HOPE Channel has expanded considerably in content and ideology since this humble beginning. Offerings currently include success stories of offenders making transitions to the community after prison, exploring career possibilities, highlighting the multiple talents within the offender population, programming on family values and the importance of healthy interpersonal interactions.

To facilitate the production of the channel, ODRC assembled a team, consisting of offenders, staff members, volunteers and community partners. The offenders became part of an apprentice video-production program, enabling them to learn the multiple components involved in the video-production process. For them, this odyssey has been nothing short of life-changing, providing character-building skills and developing competencies taught by industry experts that will serve them well after release. They also created an advisory board to provide technical assistance and expertise to the HOPE Channel team; they meet once per quarter to discuss how to make the program more diverse and connect it to the agency reentry goals. Duane Battle, a faculty member in television and film studies at Baldwin-Wallace University in Cleveland, and a member of the advisory board, believes the skills learned in the...

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