Officials broke ground Wednesday for an expansion project at West Central Community Correctional Facility that will add 32 resident beds. The facility celebrates its 20th anniversary since the arrival of its first residents today. Pictured above from left to right are David Ervin, Executive Director of West Central; Ohio State Senator David Burke; Craig Shumaker, Deputy Director of West Central; Chris Galli, Chief of the Bureau of Community Sanctions for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections; Judge Don Fraser of the Union County Common Pleas Court; Richard Smith, Chair of the West Central Facility Governing Board; Chad Vaughan, John Poe Architects; Dan Bennington, Tammy Nicholl and William McCarthy all of the West Central Community Facility Governing Board. (Photo submitted)
As Stacey Westbrook introduced herself during the 20th anniversary celebration of West Central Community Correctional Facility, she joked that the agenda was wrong.
Her title was listed as “Former West Central Employee” – a description she called “too gracious.”
In reality, Westbrook is one of 6,352 residents who have graduated from West Central, an alternative correctional facility that offers rehabilitative treatment for non-violent offenders.
“It was a time in my life that – although I was not ready – I remember everything I learned here and use it every day to be successful,” she said.
While her life has changed dramatically since then, she said her journey began much earlier.
Westbrook began drinking alcohol daily when she was 12 years old, which she said eventually led her to “crippling” IV drug use and a 27-year-long battle with addiction.
She recalled entering a court room at her lowest point, barely able to support her own withering 75-pound frame.
Instead of a prison sentence, Judge Everett H. Krueger sentenced Westbrook to West Central’s treatment.
In response to her resistance, she remembers him asking her, “Do you not want the help?” and her desperate reply: “I don’t want to die.”
It was a turning point that she says changed the trajectory of her life.
“Judge Krueger, you have no idea the impact you’ve had on my life,” she told him through tears.
She said she recently celebrated four years of sobriety, graduated from Bible college and is getting married in several months. She said she has also restored her relationships with family members and her children.
Throughout her recovery, she worked as a volunteer at West Central and is now a Peer Support Specialist at Southeastern Correctional Institution.
“There is life beyond these four walls,” she said to current West Central residents.
Hers is a message that West Central employees have been preaching for the past two decades.
On Wednesday, various West Central employees, local judges and state officials celebrated the success of the facility since its first residents arrived on Oct. 19, 1999.
Its programming has since evolved to incorporate cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual mental health services, educational and employment opportunities and vocational training.
West Central also offers re-entry services, such as medication-assisted treatment, to help graduates return to the community.
Its rehabilitative approach is crucial, according to Andy Wilson, senior advisor on criminal justice policy to Gov. Mike DeWine.
“If we have a system that just throws people in cages… We are failing the people coming back to our communities,” he said.
The success of West Central’s programming is highlighted by the facility’s 80% graduation rate over its 20-year existence.
But, State Senator Dave Burke said he witnessed its positive impact early on, “before community-based correctional facilities were cool.”
“They’re changing the lives of our friends and neighbors and making them better – not punishing them, making them better,” he said.
West Central has continued to garner support, as it was named Ohio’s best community-based correctional facility in 2018.
The event also celebrated the future of the facility, in light of its history.
Officials gathered Wednesday for the groundbreaking of an expansion project that will grow the male and female facilities.
The project will create a new laundry facility, additional restrooms and storage, along with a 16-bed male dormitory. The dayroom in the female facility will be doubled in size, receive a new computer lab, an open dining area and a 16-bed female dormitory.
With 32 additional beds, West Central’s capacity will be bumped to 176 residents – “a far cry” from the first 13 who moved in 20 years ago, Deputy Director Craig Shumaker said.
“Looking back, it’s great to see what we’ve accomplished but it’s more exciting to think what we’ll achieve,” Shumaker said. “I know the best is still yet to come.”
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