COLUMBUS, Ohio – Officials are distancing themselves from a state-sponsored CD of children's songs recorded by prison inmates after it was revealed a child sex offender helped put it together.
"To find out that someone who had committed a crime like that participated in this initiative in any way is a huge disappointment," said Bonnie Hedrick, director of the Ohio Resource Network for Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities. "It was a huge oversight and one I regret happened."
Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Lyons said criteria were established for any inmate who volunteered to perform on the CD, including that they have no history of sex offenses or crimes against children.
Lyons said different criteria applied to Towler because he was not among those "presenting the message" on the CD. Towler did not write the music or perform but only worked as a technical adviser or consultant to the songs' performers, she said.
Others credited on the CD include inmates convicted of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping.
The album contains lullabies for newborns, sing-along songs for toddlers and parenting tips. Many songs are childhood classics such as "This Old Man," while some were composed by the inmates.
The project was a partnership between the office of Ohio first lady Hope Taft, the Resource Network and the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. It cost $5,000.
Taft's participation involved her voicing an idea at a meeting for a CD that would allow inmates to participate in a "positive, community-oriented activity," Hedrick said.
The prison system said last month that 15,000 copies of the disc would be distributed to prison groups and inmate families as well as to community groups, such as public libraries and social service agencies. Lyons said the plan was scaled back to include only prison-affiliated groups at the request of the Resource Network.
Hedrick said she believes the CD will still have a positive impact. "From the child's perspective, if it was my father who did that, at least I could have something to be proud of him for," she said.