County Prison Board agrees to inmate work plan

November 08, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Prison Board members agreed Thursday to move ahead cautiously with a program that would put more Franklin County Prison inmates to work.

"I suspect anything that might instill some pride and develop a work ethic is a good idea," said Franklin County District Attorney Jack Nelson, a board member. "If we're looking at long-term solutions for reducing crime, I think it's worth it."

The board first heard a proposal last month to begin a "prison industry" at the county jail. The allure of the program is to keep inmates busy and developing work skills by contracting with a government, public or private business to provide some kind of service, Warden John Wetzel said.


While many of the county's 300 prisoners 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, Wetzel said.

"We have a lot of guys and females sitting around. If inmates are busy they are easier to manage," he said.

Rod Miller, the director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance Jail Work and Industries Center, told the board he has helped implement programs in prison systems as large as Los Angeles County, Calif., which has 19,000 inmates, to as small as a 50-bed facility in New Hampshire.

"Franklin County has potential to expand existing work opportunities," he said.

The work could include cleaning, laundry, painting, washing cars, landscaping, or some other niche an oversight committee sees.

In Strafford County, N.H., inmates wash the laundry for a nearby rest home. Hampden County, Mass., bids on projects to restore upholstery, he said.

"My hunch is what you would do to meet your local needs would be something we haven't seen before," Miller said.

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.

Committee members favored the concept but said they didn't want to just dive in too quickly.

"This is obviously something that will require a lot of planning," Nelson said. "I like your approach. Let's sit down, figure things out and get a game plan."

County Commissioner G. Warren Elliott suggested that in addition to an oversight committee of community and religious leaders, the panel should include the sheriff, the district attorney and representatives from area economic and work force development agencies.

Miller urged the board to move forward so that as it weighs the idea of building a new prison it can factor in any space it would need for work space.

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