AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — A unique relationship between the University of Akron and Ohio Penal Industries is expected to give incarcerated inmates in Ohio prisons the opportunity to earn an associate degree and get work experience with a good-paying job once they are released.

The collaboration involves the university, Summit Glove of Minerva and American Nitrile, a company that makes gloves for healthcare, government and industrial use.

“This idea came from the pandemic. We were having trouble procuring some of the items we needed to protect our staff, to protect everyone in our prisons. So came the idea of nitrile gloves,” said Ann King of Ohio Penal Industries.

Twenty-five inmates at the Marion Correctional Institution near Columbus will be taking virtual courses while they are still incarcerated. The hope is to have a working glove manufacturing facility built at the prison, capable of making gloves by spring.

“The gloves that we are producing are fentanyl-proof and will keep our staff safe,” said King.

Sadahn Jana of the university’s College of Engineering and Polymer Science said Summit Glove is sharing its knowledge of the manufacturing process while the formula for the gloves will include research being conducted at the University of Akron.

Jana said the expectation is that during the manufacturing process the gloves will be treated with a compound that changes color when the gloves are exposed to certain dangerous substances, such as fentanyl.

Through the relationship with American Nitrile, inmates are expected to be offered good-paying jobs after they are released.

“This would give an opportunity for the inmates to get jobs after they come out of their time. And what more can you do, other than learn something on polymers and then get into the job market here?” said Jana.

“Obviously, the more opportunities and the more education that we can release people with into the community is important,” said King.

“We release 18,000 people from the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in Ohio and we want to release those folks to have the opportunities that they didn’t have when they came in,” she added.

Professor Mary Triece of the University of Akron School of Communication has already been teaching courses to inmates who will be in the program and calls it one of the most gratifying experiences of her career.

“It benefits them tremendously. This particular program is geared specifically towards giving these men the skills that they need to work in a factory that produces rubber gloves. So they’re learning these supervisory skills and then also getting some of the engineering and polymer courses that they need to be effective in this position,” said Triece. “The one thing that I found that was so important to my students and really important to me as an instructor in this program is giving them a space to learn and to voice their concern, and to be heard and to be treated with dignity.”

The education and the manufacturing costs will all be paid through the sale of the gloves the inmates themselves are making.

Jana sees the relationship as a win for all involved, since there will be a real-world application for research that is being done at the University of Akron, while at the same time the inmates are gaining an education and experience that can help improve their lives and reduce recidivism.

“Many of them had had careers for decades. So I think that this program is really important, and in allowing this community to have a voice and to — like I said earlier — be treated with dignity,” said Triece.

“If you have a skill and you have knowledge of how to do something that gives you the desire to do better,” said King.