After serving a stint at the Toledo Correctional Institution, Ryan Walters has returned to the local state prison to serve as its deputy warden of operations and is continually thinking of innovative ways to keep staff safe and reduce recidivism.
Mr. Walters, 38, was named deputy warden of operations in April after previously serving as a major/chief of security at the Marion Correctional Institution. Mr. Walters succeeds Keith Fullenkamp, who moved to the Mansfield Correctional Institution as the deputy warden of operations.
He’s overseeing areas like security, unit management, maintenance, information technology, and recreation for the high-level security prison in North Toledo that houses “853 of the worst offenders,” Mr. Walters said. Rehabilitation of those incarcerated is top priority, as is keeping prison staff safe, he said.
“We want to provide the opportunity to offenders to change their thinking,” Mr. Walters said, which is attempted through various programming and attempting to “normalize” the facility as much as possible.
“For staff, [post traumatic stress disorder] sets in, always having to look over your shoulder. We’re trying to set some normalcy on both sides,” Mr. Walters said.
Specifically for staff, the roll call area will be redesigned to get rid of a sterile feeling. It will include more traditional furniture to offer a more welcoming feel. Likewise, the visiting area for inmates and families and children will include similar features.
When inmates and staff are presented with a stressful situation, they will be offered some peace and tranquility by allowing them to decompress in a “blue room.” Mr. Walters said various studies have shown a blue-painted room with therapeutic music tends to help soothe inmates following a high-stress situation.
One wall in each cell of the extended restrictive housing block of the prison has also been painted blue to help capture this calming effect. That block is currently unoccupied, but Mr. Walters said he willing to try new tactics to help inmates improve their ways of thinking.
“All of these guys have the potential to be your neighbor when they go home,” said the facility’s spokesman Sonrisa Sehlmeyer, adding it’s important to keep those who are incarcerated have activities they look forward to and the ability to focus on positive behavior.
Inmates’ access to tablet computers now offers them connection to programs. The prison has more than 850 tablets through GTL, a company that offers technology access to those who are incarcerated. The tablets allow inmates to pursue post-secondary educations through Ashland University’s correctional education program.
Jpay tablets, which are approved specifically for use in prisons, may also be purchased through the offender or their family.
Those who are incarcerated no longer have to wait in line to use a pay phone, which frequently caused fights between inmates, as inmates can contact family during various times of the day using the tablets, Mr. Walters said. This in turn helps inmates’ moods, as well as keeping the staff safe.
Additional electronic programming is in the works for the tablet use, and Mr. Walters’ team is seeking to acquire more equipment.
Mr. Walters started his career as a correctional officer at Lima Correctional Institution in 2000. He then transferred to the Correctional Reception Center, where he later served as a lieutenant for the Ohio Reformatory for Women.
In 2013, he transferred to the Toledo Correctional Institution, where he served as a captain, unit manager, and temporary work level investigator. Three years later, he transferred to the Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution.
In his current position, he will be paid a salary of about $86,500.
He also has experience in incident-command systems, special-response teams, and hostage-negotiation teams.
Mr. Walters is married and has four children.