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Prison industry jobs offer experience

'It's like hitting the lottery to get a job in here'

'It's like hitting the lottery to get a job in here'

August 12, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

There is a work area at the Maryland Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown where butcher knives are a tool of the trade.

And like the employees at other hands-on shops throughout the state prison complex on Roxbury Road, workers at the meat plant are a captive audience.

"Mostly, these guys that come out here want to work," said Gregory Haupt, regional manager for Maryland Correctional Enterprises. "These are the best jobs in the institution. They don't want to do something to lose these jobs."

Maryland Correctional Enterprises is the prison industry arm of the state Division of Correction. Its mission, spelled out on a state Web site, is to provide "structured employment and training activities for offenders in order to improve employability upon release, to reduce prison idleness, to produce quality, salable goods and services, and to be a financially self-supporting state agency."

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Danielle Wilmsen, marketing coordinator for Maryland Correctional Enterprises, said shops such as the meat plant not only provide the prison system's best-paying jobs - offenders can earn between $120 and $150 a month, or more - they give offenders an incentive to stay out of trouble.

The three state prisons along Roxbury Road have 12 of the 30 correctional enterprises shops in the Maryland prison system. The shops, which are self-supporting, sell goods and services to government contractors and nonprofit and government agencies, Wilmsen said.

Inmates who apply for the jobs must be trouble-free for at least 90 days and throughout their employment.

"Inside, they take

the knives away.

Out here, we hand

the knives out and

let them work

with them."

Correctional enterprises supervisors maintain a list of inmates who are interested in working in the shops, and they interview them when jobs become available, Wilmsen said.

"It's like hitting the lottery to get a job in here," said Clyde Diamond the plant manager of the graphics arts shop at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, where inmates' products include license-plate validation stickers.

To get into and out of the shops, inmates pass through metal detectors. A sign inside Diamond's shop warns of random searches.

Diamond and other plant managers said trouble is rare, although the money inmates earn can make them targets in the general population.

The shops at the prisons on Roxbury Road generate about half of the revenue raised by correctional enterprises across the state, Wilmsen said.

During the 2006-07 fiscal year, correctional enterprises brought in $42.8 million, she said.

Although Wilmsen said prison officials do not track the jobs that inmates get after they leave prison, Haupt said many of the workers at the meat plant eventually become meat processors on the outside.

Wilmsen said about half of the inmates released from the general prison population eventually return to prison. But employees of Correctional Enterprises have a lower recidivism rate than other inmates, he said.

Although the inmates at the meat shop use butcher knives every day, Haupt said, problems are rare.

"Inside, they take the knives away," Haupt said. "Out here, we hand the knives out and let them work with them."

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