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Warden wants inmates to work

October 04, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The warden of the Franklin County Prison wants to put more inmates to work.

"The biggest thing is inmate idleness. I'm not used to inmates basically laying around all day," said John Wetzel, who was hired as warden in February.

While many inmates do work in the prison kitchen or keep outside jobs through the work release program, there are dozens of inmates confined to the main building on Franklin Farm Lane with essentially nothing to do, he said.

Wetzel met a month ago with the director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance Jail Work and Industries Center about starting a program in Franklin County.

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A jail industry uses inmate labor to create a product or provide a service for public or private clients and compensates inmates with pay, privileges or other benefits.

A panel of community members would define what the jail industry should be. Inmates at other prisons do everything from stuffing envelopes to refurbishing toys and bikes for children, Wetzel said.

"The warden needs to explore with people in the community to find a niche," said Commissioner Cheryl Plummer, a member of the Prison Board who heard Wetzel's proposal for the first time Thursday.

Sheriff Robert Wollyung, another Prison Board member, said he was concerned there would be backlash from the community if inmates were swallowing up jobs.

"A while back with Little League we attempted to get the vo-tech students to work on our fields. We caught holy hell from the community, particularly trade groups who said we're taking their jobs," he said.

However, Wetzel said he felt the inmates could find an under-served market to fill.

"The labor market is still tight. But almost all inmates will be discharged and put back in the community. I like the advantage this would give them," said Commissioner Bob Thomas, Prison Board president.

Wetzel said he believes there is also interest from the inmates.

"We painted the inside of the jail and did some minor renovations and paid the inmates with pizza," he said. "They are still asking for more to do."

In addition to the benefit of keeping inmates busy, the program would give them work experience and a better start after release, provide incentives for them to behave and allow the prison to contribute to the community.

The members of the Prison Board will review a report Wetzel gave them Thursday and pick up the discussion at their Nov. 7 meeting.

Wetzel said he thinks the program would be self-supporting, and the overcrowded jail would have the room if they worked on a third shift while the rest of the inmates were sleeping.

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