When Jail Inmates Work – Everyone Wins

By Rod Miller, Director, National Jail Work and Industry Center (www.jailwork.com)

On an average day, nearly 20 percent of all jail inmates work at least 6 hours (Work in America’s Jails. National Jail Work and Industries Center, 1993). Some jails go much further, enlisting inmates in a wide range of work activities in, near, and outside of the jail. A common characteristic of such programs is that everyone wins—community, jail, taxpayers, and inmates. This article profiles industry programs in seven jails of varying
sizes and located across the nation.

Two Bridges Regional Jail, Wiscasset, Maine
Having one of the newest jail industries programs in the country, Two Bridges Regional Jail employs a full-time industries manager and has recently added an officer to operate the wood shop. The program has also assumed responsibility for the inmate commissary program. Much of the proceeds of the program are used to implement community service projects. An inmate garden donates produce to the area food pantries. Last year, 500 wooden toys, designed and fabricated in the wood shop, were donated to area “Santa Funds.” An innovative doll house was also raffled and the proceeds went to a heating oil fund for senior citizens.

The program has proven to be a powerful management tool for the whole facility. Inmates must earn the right to be eligible for a paying job, according to Naomi Bonang, the program director, who is “a believer that community service projects help keep inmates connected to society and are a vital part of a successful reentry.”

Franklin County Jail, Pennsylvania
The new Franklin County Jail in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, recently received recognition for one of its industries projects—tearing down the old jail and recycling many pieces. The jail gained national attention for its community involvement and its development process.

One ongoing industries project involves assisting the Council for the Arts with their newsletter. Inmates assemble and collate the pages from the printer, and sort and label them for bulk mailing. The project takes about 2 days, and employs 15 to 20 women inmates.

Another ongoing project is for the Chambersburg Cardinals. This minor league football team delivers their uniforms to the jail, where they are washed, dried, and delivered back to the team on hangers. The jail also cleans and repaints the team’s helmets during the off-season.

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Jail Enterprise Unit
The primary focus of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s (LASD) Jail Enterprises Unit continues to be providing quality vocational training to the inmates in California’s Los Angeles County jails. However, a strong emphasis is placed on cost savings for the department.

In 2009, the LASD Jail Enterprises Unit began a Plastic Bag Operation at the East Facility, a maximum security jail at the Pitchess Detention Center, a.k.a. “The Ranch.” The operation is currently in its first phase of production. In this phase, 11 inmates
operating 2 machines are producing lunch and trash bags for the LASD’s Food Services Unit. By producing rather than purchasing these bags, LASD will save approximately $100,000 annually. In the next phase of production, trash bags of all sizes for the rest of the department’s units will be produced, saving an additional $250,000 annually for LASD. In the last phase, the Jail Enterprises Unit will market the bags to other government agencies within Los Angeles County.

At the Pitchess Detention Center’s South Facility, the Jail Enterprises Unit operates a pet grooming shop where a credentialed vocational instructor trains minimum security inmates. During the course of their training, inmates have traditionally groomed LASD service dogs (at a cost savings to the department) and the pets of LASD employees
to generate revenue. Last year, the shop starting grooming animals for adoption from the
local county animal shelter, which increased the adoption rates for animals from this shelter. Additionally, a pet tag engraving machine was purchased and is used to generate additional revenue by selling engraved pet tags to shop customers.

Arapahoe County, Colorado
The Arapahoe Sheriff’s Training Employment Program (ASTEP) breaks new ground for jail work and industries programs and continues to be on the cutting edge under the leadership of Sheriff Grayson Robinson.

The ASTEP program assigns 35 inmates to various work projects in the facility. Much of the work is completed in the newly renovated jail industries workshop. The renovations, including installation of an elevator, were funded by revenues generated by the ASTEP program.

In addition to receiving hourly wages, inmate workers are motivated to participate in the program by earning the privilege to wear headphones in the jail (they are the only inmates with this privilege), an expanded list of commissary choices, and living conditions that are more desirable than those provided for non-working inmates.

ASTEP currently assigns 10 inmates to its ongoing hanger recycling contract. Thousands of used hangers are brought to the facility where inmates clean them, reshape them as needed, and put new stickers on them. This recycling contract has been active for several years and currently serves three local customers.

Working with another local customer, a recycling company, ASTEP acquired 956 voting machines from the city and county of Denver. The machines were on their way to the landfill as trash until Arapahoe County stepped in. Thinking “green,” ASTEP and their client collaborated to find a more environmentally friendly, and profitable, solution. ASTEP retrieved one voting machine and completely disassembled it to determine what
recyclable parts were available. Program staff discovered that each voting machine had over 21 separate parts that could be recycled—virtually the entire machine. The parts included transformers, castors, printers, three types of aluminum, copper, steel, plastic, and batteries.

Utah County, Utah
Utah County is one of the few counties in the United States currently certified for interstate
commerce of prisoner-made goods under the Federal Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). The mission of its jail industries program is to provide inmates with a realistic work experience and teach marketable skills. This in turn will improve inmate opportunities for gainful employment upon release, thus reducing recidivism and lowering Utah County’s resource commitment for maintaining the jail. It
is through the development of these work habits that inmates prepare themselves for the challenges of post-release employment.

The county operates a unique program in which inmates work for private businesses in the community setting rather than on correctional institution grounds. Local business owners appreciate the reliable labor supply that, under PIECP regulations, creates no competition with free citizen workers. Inmates are happy to have a break from jail time and to show potential employers their capabilities. They gain marketable skills, make contact with conventional members of society, and save money for food, housing, and other start-up needs upon release. As for Utah County, in its nine years of operating the jail industries program, the program has produced over $5,000,000 in gross revenues.

In addition, the county also operates a large agricultural program (called “the Garden”) that has donated more than 50 tons of vegetables to food banks, food coalitions, senior citizen centers, and the jail kitchen.

Washington State Jail Industries Board
The Washington State Jail Industries Board (JIB) provides statewide leadership for jails to promote and mobilize employment-focused, community re-entry programs through partnerships with labor, businesses, victims, communities, social service agencies, and government (see www.jib.wa.gov). The board promotes:
• Victim compensation and restitution
• Reduced victimization and recidivism
• Meaningful work experience and work ethics
• Public service through offender labor

JIB and the Washington State Department of Corrections—Correctional Industries won a Perkins grant for 2010/2011 in the amount of $145,000. Part of the grant funding is being used to conduct Hazardous Waste Operations & Emergency Response and Asbestos Abatement training for jail offenders in nine jails in Washington State. All of the offenders trained through the grant are enrolled in the Washington State Employment Department’s Services, Knowledge & Information Exchange System (SKIES) database. Through this database, JIB is able to track employment and recidivism rates and compare against nontrained offender data. According to Dean Mason, JIB’s Executive Director, it is possible for offenders trained in the program to obtain employment after release in the hazardous waste field earning anywhere from $20 – 40/hour.

Additional grant funded programs address offender employment deficits to better prepare
offenders for successful transition and re-entry to the community. These programs blend existing resources and partnership development with grant funds to produce a statewide coordination of offender industries/work programs, offender workforce development, and re-entry enterprises. Here are a few examples:

Yakima County — In September 2008, Yakima County Department of Corrections was awarded $11,588 in grant money for the Jail to Work: Cultivating Offender Reentry Program, from the Washington State JIB. The grant provides funding for Forklift Train-the-Trainer classes for two officers and computers. Eligible inmates can receive forklift training, and if they pass the class, receive a certificate that will enable them to get
a job typically paying $10 to $12 per hour to start. The classes are eight hours over the course of two days. Inmates receive classroom training on one day and hands-on training on the other day.

Whatcom County — With $24,810 in funding from the Jail to Work: Cultivating Offender Reentry grant and by combining county resources, the Whatcom County Jail developed a horticulture work crew. Utilizing a jail employee with a background in teaching horticulture, the program delivers three phases of training for a total of 480 hours of instruction. The horticulture work crew is operated from the Whatcom County Interim Work Center, where a new greenhouse was constructed to grow plant starts. The Horticulture Work Crew Program produces and supplies native species plants to local wetland and habitat restoration groups while providing offenders the opportunity to learn the skills needed for employment by local farms, nurseries, and retail outlets.The program enlisted the aid of a dedicated master gardener and uses partnerships with several local organizations.

Hampden County, Massachusetts
Started more than 25 years ago, York Street Industries, located at Hampden County Jail and House of Correction, continues to focus on job development and has grown steadily since its inception.

A new restaurant program called the Olde Armory Grille was launched last year. The restaurant is a collaboration between the Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) Technology Park in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department’s prison industries operation. Sheriff’s department supervisory staff
and participants of its Community Reentry Program operate the restaurant.

The managers of the Olde Armory Grille have extensive experience in food service preparation and delivery, which they utilize in the operation of the restaurant. Supervisory staff who run the restaurant come from the jail’s food services and security staff, and have business backgrounds. These staffers serve as onsite food service and dining room managers, operating the restaurant Monday through Friday. Full-service catering is
also available to the Springfield area.

In addition to a manager’s certification, all staff are ServSafe® trained. Restaurants utilize ServSafe certification to assure the public that the staff serving food is trained in food safety and proper food handling procedures. The half-dozen participants in the Olde Armory Grille project are selected by the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department from
community corrections and minimum-security operations as part of their vocational training for successful community reentry.

The program is completely self-sustaining. The income derived from the restaurant directly offsets job skills training costs, which would otherwise be a burden on the taxpayer.