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Pennsylvania Work-Release Program Criticized

Some citizens of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania feel that county work-release prisoners are forfeiting too much of their salary to a greedy judicial system.

Businessman Lewis Knepp employs work-release prisoners. He tells how one of his employees, who earns $10 an hour and takes home $317 a week has $257 garnished from his wages to pay for mandatory state programs.

?These guys are set up to fail,? says Knepp. ?There?s such a weight on them that they can?t possibly survive.?

Prison warden Robert Karnes disagrees. ?It makes no sense to put somebody in jail, and they?re not paying on the fines they?re incarcerated for.?

Karnes says the program has the additional benefit of keeping prisoners in touch with their community. He points out that 120 of Lebanon County?s 900-plus prisoners are part of the work-release program. He also says that they are enjoying a privilege the rest do not qualify for.

Prisoners are also paid to work on county-owned properties and even in the prisons. Karnes says the program is mutually beneficial since prisoners perform janitorial, food, laundry and landscaping services for the prisons.

?For me to contract that out, they?re saving a lot of money,? he said.

But the money prisoner labor is saving the state is going back into the state?s coffers not to pay the prisoners. Knepp says the idea is essentially good but the amount of money the prisoner actually keeps doesn?t allow him any way to help support his family.

?I think work-release is a great idea, but I think the end of it should be the man standing on his own two feet when he gets out of prison. I don?t think the way to do that would have the man come out and declare bankruptcy.?

Karnes says the prisoner is to blame for his financial distress.

?Some of them have dug themselves such a hole. Obviously, it?s not our intention to make them flat broke, but it?s the choices they make. If they make poor decisions, whose fault is it but theirs.?

Knepp contends that if the county leaves a prisoner ?nothing to live on? then the system is partially to blame if he goes back to crime or on welfare.

?He has no way to pay rent or buy food. It?s impossible for him to survive,? says Knepp. ?If they have a light at the end of the tunnel, it?s a very dim one.?

Two of the prisoners who started working for Knepp while in prison are now out and working for him full-time.

Source: Lebanon Daily News

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