Ohio Reformatory for Women

Ohio Reformatory for Women

The Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW) is a state prison owned and operated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in Marysville, Ohio. It opened in September 1916, when 34 female inmates were transferred from the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus. [1] ORW is a multi-security, state facility. As of October 2006, 2,011 female inmates were living at the prison ranging from 884 minimum-security inmates all the way up to two inmates on death row. [2] It was the fifth prison in the United States, in modern times, to open a nursery for imprisoned mothers and their babies located within the institution. The Achieving Baby Care Success (ABC) program was the first in the state to keep infants with their mothers.



It took about four years to construct the prison, which is located on 260 acres (1.1 km2) of donated land outside of the small town of Marysville. Originally, the prison consisted of one stone building, known as the Harmon Building. The prison was also a functioning farm, complete with dairy cattle, hogs, and grain, which the inmates ran. Although ORW no longer operates as a farm, it is still commonly referred to as “the farm.” A former probation and juvenile court officer, Louise M. Mittendorf, was the first superintendent of the prison. She was appointed in March 1916 to an indefinite term. She resigned in 1935 and died four years later. (cached)

Originally, inmates were housed in the Harmon building, but eventually additional cottages were built. Plumbing was later added in the 1950s. Before this, the inmates did not have the privilege of indoor plumbing and had to use “slop jars.” In 1961, Clearview School opened at the prison and the Ohio Reformatory for Women became the first in the state to have an official Adult Education Program.


Riots occurred at ORW from time to time. Around the 1950s, the first male guard was hired. A guard’s job mostly consisted of supervising inmates and breaking up fights. In 1968, one of the main cottages was almost ruined due to a fire during an inmate disturbance. Only a few years later, a group of inmates gathered and rioted in one of the other cottages. These offenders were consequently sent to the Ohio Penitentiary for maximum-security supervision. A decade later, the last escape from the institution occurred and more wire was added to the external fence of the prison to prevent any more women from escaping. The addition of wire occurred the same year that the first male warden, H.L. Morris, was appointed.

Media Coverage

  • Comedienne/actress Mo'Nique filmed the Showtime Stand-up Comedy Special, I Coulda Been Your Cellmate (2006),[3] and TV documentary, Mo'Nique Behind Bars (2007),[4] at ORW.[5]

Prison Nursery

In 2000, Governor Bob Taft signed a House Bill that permitted the Ohio Reformatory for Women to establish a residential nursery. The following summer, under the Direction of Warden Deb Timmerman-Cooper, ORW opened up the only nursery program of its kind in the state. At the time, New York, Nebraska and Washington were the only other states in the United States that had any type of nursery for incarcerated mothers. [4] The Achieving Baby Care Success (ABC) program at ORW makes it possible for pregnant offenders to keep custody of their newborns after they give birth. Each case is dealt with individually and each mother is assigned a plan that fits. The plan is for the baby and the mother to leave the prison together. As of October 4, 2006, there were eight babies in the programs according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction website. [2] ORW employees have observed that mothers who have participated in and graduated from the ABC program are rarely repeat offenders. There are certain qualifications and standards that the mother must meet before she is allowed to be a part of the nursery program. The mother inmate must have given birth to the baby while in Ohio state custody. Having a violent record would disqualify her from the program. The mother must attend family training courses with hands-on parenting instruction, maintain good mental and physical health, be serving a short term, and follow many other specific rules. [6] The nursery program at ORW is housed in a separate wing of the establishment and contains double occupancy rooms for up to twenty mothers with their infants. The wing also includes a recreation area, a laundry room, and the unit’s own childcare center.


Coordinates: 40°13′20″N 83°23′38″W / 40.22222°N 83.39389°W / 40.22222; -83.39389

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