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Inmate labor makes money for county

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By Calen McKinney

 

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Sweat drips from his brow as he pushes the lawnmower around for another turn.

Two other men, also dressed in orange, are mowing on the other side of the building.

As they mow, passersby drive past them and see the truck they ride in, which proclaims, "Your Tax Dollars at Work."

Across town, two other men in orange wash a school bus, inside and out. They have many more to do before the start of the school year.

It's free labor - and they take pride in the work they do.

Taylor County Detention Center inmates can often be seen working around the community, whether they are picking up garbage, mowing or cleaning at local schools and offices.

In fiscal year 2012-2013, which ended June 30, inmates worked nearly 25,000 hours of labor in Taylor and Green counties. If paid minimum wage, that equates to nearly $200,000.

And Taylor County Jailer Hack Marcum says that is money the detention center puts directly back into the community.

According to a report for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, state inmates housed at the detention center are assigned to various work crews in the community.

"By using inmate labor, the participating departments and entities save tax dollars. In turn, inmates are paid by the state for the hours they work, but more importantly, they gain valuable job skills, which will contribute to their success upon release."

The report states that, from October 2012 to the end of June, inmates worked:

• Green County - 9,599 hours

• Campbellsville Housing & Redevelopment Authority - 4,256 hours

• Campbellsville/Taylor County Fire & Rescue and EMS - 712 hours

• Local school systems - 1,976 hours

• City of Campbellsville - 3,320 hours

• Taylor County Recycling Center - 3,250 hours

Total hours inmates worked total 23,113, which, if paid minimum wage, equates to $167,569.25. When counting totals from July to October 2012, he said, that figure would likely be more than $200,000.

Marcum said taxpayers can literally see that money come back to the community.

"It's a very important service," he said. "We've saved them $168,000. It shows that the taxpayers are getting a little bit for their buck."

And getting outside is beneficial for the inmates, as is performing hard work.

"It helps rehabilitate them some," Marcum said.

Work crews also perform labor mowing county properties and picking up trash. In fiscal year 2012-2013, inmates picked up 459.7 miles of trash, which equates to 4,240 bags of garbage.

In his monthly report to magistrates at the last Taylor County Fiscal Court meeting, Marcum said in June, inmates housed at the detention center performed nearly 2,700 hours of labor in the community. If paid minimum wage, the hours would equate to $19,198.

Marcum said inmates at his detention center are classified with a level ranking, with 5 being the rank of the more dangerous inmates and those charged with serious crimes receive.

Only those classified as level 1 and 2 inmates are allowed to work in the community, Marcum said. Those inmates are charged with minor drug crimes and some thefts and burglary.

Marcum said he sends several inmates to work in Green County because the county contracts with them to house their inmates. And, he said, it's only right that the detention center provide Green County officials with some free labor in exchange.

Inmate work crews leave the detention center between 7 and 8 a.m. each morning. During the hot days of summer, Marcum said, the inmates come back to their cells by around 3 p.m. to beat the heat.

Lately, Marcum said, inmates have been used heavily by Campbellsville and Taylor County school systems to help prepare for the upcoming school year.

At Campbellsville, inmates helped immensely when Campbellsville elementary and middle schools traded buildings.

Across town at Taylor County schools, Taylor County Middle School Principal Tony Jewell said inmates have helped custodians do cleaning and other work they often don't have time to get to.

"They are fantastic to work with," he said. "It's a great deal."

Inmates also helped Campbellsville and Taylor County head start buildings merge and the Taylor County Public Library move to its new location. They also helped set up and take down the stage and chairs used at the recent community July Fourth celebration.

Green County Solid Waste Coordinator Bill Durham said his county uses inmates to pick up garbage and roadside trash.

"That is a great situation," he said.

Durham said using inmates allows the county's grant money to pay for litter abatement go farther.

"It's been a tremendous boost to be able to use that," he said. "It certainly is a valuable service to not only Taylor County, but surrounding counties."

Greensburg Mayor Lisle Cheatham said inmates are used to mow, paint and do building renovations in his town.

In this day and age, he said, communities are looking for ways to save money, and using inmates is one of those ways.

Looking at how much Greensburg uses inmates, he said, the city gets about $80,000 to $90,000 a year in free labor.

"To us, that's about 5 percent of our budget," Cheatham said.

Greensburg collects about $130,000 each year in property taxes.

"In our case, [inmates] save us almost what we bring in property taxes."

Marcum said there really is no limit to the work inmates can do. From painting to metal and mechanical work to cleaning, there is always some place they can help.

"It's unlimited, really," Marcum said.

And, he said, inmates working in the community make it look better and residents can be proud of that.

A specific way inmates help beautify the community, Marcum said, is by mowing abandoned properties. He said inmates have found a multitude of items when mowing those properties.

"We've picked up anything from bowling balls to swimming pools," he said.

Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young said the city uses inmates extensively. They were used to do the city's landscape project in an alley on Main Street and have helped replace storm drains.

Young said inmates helped Campbellsville/Taylor County Economic Development and other offices move from their building on Broadway to the former Taylor County Public Library.

And inmates help at Campbellsville Fire & Rescue and Campbellsville/Taylor County EMS almost daily.

"Because we're always cleaning the department, the building, the vehicles."

Inmates have helped paint fire hydrants around town, which will help workers know how much pressure the hydrant has.

Young said the city uses inmates so much, they might be taken advantage of. That's why the city sometimes offers to provide lunch for the inmates.

"We use them on any project, just about, that happens," Young said. "We just appreciate them. They're just really helpful."

Inmates also work in the detention center's garden, which Marcum says the workers take great pride in. Inmates get to eat the fruit of that labor.

And even though the inmates work in the community just about every day of the week, Marcum said he hasn't had any try to run away from their work detail.

"They get a flat five years if they run," Marcum said. "They're more intelligent than that."

Inmate Revenue

According to Marcum's report for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the detention center housed an average of 214 inmates each day, with 55 being Taylor County inmates. About 130 were state inmates, the report states, and an average of nine were from Jessamine County, 17 from Green County and one from Cumberland County.

When elected, Marcum said, he set a goal to house an average of 122 state inmates. He said he brought that number to 130 by building relationships with local jailers and making phone calls.

"It they've got extra inmates, we get them," he said. "And we were very fortunate."

Marcum said the state not renewing its contract to house inmates at Marion Adjustment Center in Lebanon could net Taylor County's detention center a few more inmates.

"It will help all the counties," he said. "Each county will get some."

For fiscal year 2012-2013, the detention center made nearly $1.8 million from housing state and Cumberland, Jessamine and Green county inmates. State inmates brought in nearly $1.5 million.

Marcum said he had budgeted that state and other county inmates would bring in $1.3 million revenue. So that means, he said, the detention center is making more than he thought it would.

But that doesn't mean Marcum expects to make $1.8 million in revenue from housing state and other inmates every year. His budget this year estimates the detention center will generate $1.3 million from those inmates.

And Marcum said the totals for this fiscal year might be lower than $1.8 million because of House Bill 463, which calls for inmates charged with lesser crimes to be released from jail instead of incarcerated.

"It hurts us all," he said. "But we will survive. We will go forward."

Marcum said he treats his job as one in which he must go out and get inmates to house at his jail.

"This is a business," he said. "I'm the salesman for the jail. We have to look at it that way."

Housing an average of 130 state inmates last fiscal year, Marcum said, had some Department of Corrections staff citing the detention center for overcrowding. But he said DOC officials know county jails must make revenue to pay their debt.

"The more money we bring in, the less the taxpayer has to be burdened with his tax money," Marcum said.

Though the jail isn't self-sufficient just yet, Marcum said, its revenue pays for its operational costs.

The county pays for the debt on the detention center, which opened in 2008.

Debt stands at about $14.7 million, of which nearly $9.8 million accounts for principal. The county currently pays $725,130 a year on the debt.

In June, the jail housed an average of 222 inmates each day, with 105 being state inmates. In all, 30 percent of the inmates housed at the detention center during the month were Taylor County's inmates, who are non-revenue-generating customers.

In June, jail contracts with the state and Green, Cumberland and Jessamine counties produced $127,273.02 in revenue.