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Xavier Magazine | July 28, 2017

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Life in Prison

Terry Collins is a lifer—but on the other side of the prison bars. Collins, who received his master’s degree in criminal justice in 1980, is director of the Ohio Department of Rehabil-itation and Correction, overseeing one of the state’s largest agencies—13,000 employees, 51,000 inmates, 34,000 people under parole and a $1.8 billion budget.

Collins started his 32-year career in the Ohio prison system as a social worker at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville before becoming a warden at prisons in Lorain, Chillicothe and Lucasville. “I remember my first warden telling me, ‘If I can keep you for five years, I can keep you for life,’ ” Collins says. “That’s the way it is in this business—it kind of gets in your blood.”

A native of Hillsboro, Ohio, Collins jokes that the corrections world first got in his blood when he became a resident adviser at Morehead State University. “I sometimes think that was my first job as a warden—looking after 190 freshman boys.” Ironically, it was while leading his freshmen on a tour of Lucasville he landed in the prison system. “During our visit, someone said they were hiring,” Collins says. “That was a Friday. They said come back Monday for an interview. I started a week later.”

Collins returned to Lucasville as warden in 1993 after riots took 10 lives and caused $40 million in damage. Today, his charge is larger: making every prison in the state work. With a prison system at 130-percent capacity, the state needs to make some tough decisions, he says. Mandatory sentencing, especially for drug crimes, has put people in prison who don’t need to be there. He favors sentencing reform and is a huge proponent of community corrections alternatives for low-risk offenders. “If you want to lock everybody up, that’s fine with me, too, but you got to figure out how to pay for it.”

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