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Work Crews Salvage Georgia Prison Contract

by David M. Reutter

The Augusta City Commission voted in July 2011 to extend a contract with the Georgia Department of Corrections to house state prisoners at the city-owned Richmond County Correctional Institution (RCCI), despite the city facing a $9 million budget deficit and the contract costing local taxpayers almost $3.23 million annually.

In July 2011, 181 state prisoners were housed at RCCI; while the state provides reimbursement payments to the city, they are not enough to cover operating expenses at the prison. From 2006 to 2011, it cost Augusta residents nearly $16.4 million to house prisoners at RCCI.

It would seem that due to that high cost and the city’s budget deficit, the contract to house state prisoners would be canceled – yet the Commission voted to renew the contract. Why? The allure of prison labor.

Most, but not all, of the state prisoners are assigned to county work squads. The Augusta Chronicle estimated that 126 prisoners are on such squads, but RCCI warden Joseph Evans said up to 180 are assigned. The Chronicle asked Augusta’s eight city departments to provide the number of hours prisoners worked. Only the Department of License and Inspection could supply hard numbers; the others had to estimate.

It was apparent the city has become dependent on prison labor. Some prisoners perform cooking, cleaning, maintenance, laundry and landscaping at RCCI, while those on community work squads are so in demand they have more job requests than they can handle.

The state Department of Transportation (DOT) uses two RCCI work crews to pick up trash in Richmond, Columbia, Lincoln and McDuffie counties. According to DOT spokeswoman Gazell McNure, prisoners worked 4,315 hours and filled 2,780 trash bags from January through July 2011.

The Board of Education decided in December 2010 to use prison labor to perform landscaping services and maintenance at retention ponds, to move school items, and to clean sports complexes and 40 schools. Benton O. Starks, the senior Facilities Director, estimated that RCCI prisoners worked over 5,000 hours.

The Chronicle calculated the beneficial cost of prison labor at minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, for a 35-hour work week in 2010, assuming prisoners worked half the rain days and subtracting an hour for each day the temperature rose above 90 degrees. The paper concluded that prison work crews saved taxpayers about $1.25 million – less than half the $3.23 million it costs the city to house state prisoners at RCCI.

Source: Augusta Chronicle

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