Inmates providing bargain labor for cash-strapped state agencies


INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana War Memorial downtown has found a way to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance costs. They found people who will work for no more than $1.50 per hour, and now so are other government agencies.

Looking at Indiana's War Memorial, you would never guess its budget been slashed by 40 percent. The memorial is looking sharp these days with manicured lawns and fresh flowers, polished floors and new exhibits.

"The Department of Corrections' personnel that come here every day, seven days a week, keep us going," said Gen. J. Stewart Goodwin (ret), Indiana War Memorials.

Prison inmates within a few years of being set free act as maintenance workers, landscapers, custodians and cabinet makers. Their work saves the memorial about $200,000 a year.

"We are into this program for years and we are amazed at everything they do for us," said Gen. Goodwin.

As more state and local government budgets are cut, more are turning to the Department of Corrections for cheap, reliable labor.

The client list is impressive. Among the institutions turning to DOC workers are The Blind School, Indiana State Fair, White River State Park, the governor's office and even the Super Bowl Host Committee.

When Eyewitness News asked if using prisoners for this type of work posed a safety concern, Re-Entry Educational Facility Superintendent Beckie Bennett said, "No, because these guys are going to be your neighbors anyway."

Beckie Bennett runs the DOC's Re-Entry Educational Facility. Offenders have to earn their way into the program. Bennett says she personally reviews each record.

"We want to give them every tool to succeed. It's not going to be easy," she said.

After seven years in prison, Steven West admits freedom is a little scary.

"Going from the inside to outside, that's a positive about this job. It helps with the transition," he said.

The experience teaches basic job skills perhaps forgotten during Bradley Lunsford's 16 years in prison.

"You are expected to do your job stay out of trouble and return every day," said Lunsford.

Perhaps a win-win for government agencies desperate to save money, and soon-to-be former prison inmates determined to survive life on the right side of the fence.

The Department of Corrections says there is a waiting list of government agencies who want to put offenders to work. They are paid from 25 cents to $1.50 an hour. Agencies also have to pay security costs.

In Indianapolis, officials say they've had only one offender escape. He walked away. Within several days he was captured and sent back to prison.