CHARLESTON -- A few select inmates at the Southeast Correctional Center are doing part of their time away from the prison cells lately.
For the past couple of years, the Charleston correctional center's incarcerated work release program has worked with the Southeast District of MoDOT in Sikeston each week, assisting in clearing rubbish and overgrowth on overpasses, bridges and roadsides as well mowing.
"We have them picking up a lot of trash on the side the road. a lot of work that otherwise may not get done," noted Mark Aufdenberg, roadside manager for MoDOT's Southeast District.
Aufdenberg said the offender-workers help out a lot, and there haven't been any problems with utilizing the offender-workers like there have been in other parts of the state, such as inmates trying to walk away from crews.
In addition to keeping up state roads and helping out MoDOT work crews, there are other benefits to the inmate work release program.
"It truly is a wonderful program for all who are involved," assured Thomas O'Guin, functional unit manager and work release program coordinator for Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston. "It helps the taxpayers not to regain money, but at least they're seeing some examples of restored justice with the offenders."
Most recently, the Southeast Correctional Center inmates worked in the Poplar Bluff area, cleaning up where several trees were blown over, O'Guin commented.
Even though MoDOT is a large customer to this program, it isn't the only customer. Charleston, East Prairie and Mississippi County also utilize offender-workers for the same types of jobs as MoDOT.
"When the tornado went through Jackson last year, we had our crews there, and they assisted with the clean up and removal of rubbish and whatever was needed. We worked up there for several days," O'Guin recalled, adding the crew also sandbags.
In fact, Southeast Correctional Center has had interest from other areas, but since they have a maximum capacity of housing, they can't commit to more than the number of offenders they can house, O'Guin said.
Offenders also work in MoDOT's local shed with painting projects. Indoor work is usually done in the cooler months of the year, O'Guin noted.
"Most of the time, the offenders come in and are very willing and ready to get to out and work and earn some money," O'Guin said.
Some offender-workers have been incarcerated a short number of years and some longer -- and a lot have changed, O'Guin said.
"It gives them an opportunity to regain work ethics prior to going back into the community. In some cases, gives skills they may not have had otherwise," O'Guin said.
The average crew size is eight offenders to one supervisor, which is provided by MoDOT. Offenders receive training from the Department of Corrections, and then are assigned to MoDOT. Offender-workers are paid $7.50 per day based on an eight-hour day.
"They are not skilled laborers," O'Guin admitted. "But in turn, by assisting MoDOT employees and working on various projects, they're going to learn some skills they may not learn elsewhere."
MoDOT has estimated that the labor of Department of Corrections inmate has saved the state approximately $12.9 million dollars from January through June of 2004. The amount is based on using inmate labors as opposed to salaried state employees.
"It not only makes lives a little easier inside the institution, but it certainly makes it easier when they hit the streets. It helps them not be a burden on families financially."
Approximately 340 low-custody Missouri Department of Corrections inmates assist MoDOT every day across the state. O'Guin said: "When they (offender-workers) walk out the door of the institution, maybe they'll have a little money in their pocket, get a house, establish transportation and be successful."