CHARLESTON - Inmate labor from the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston may be just what the county needs to keep the Oak Grove Cemetery in even nicer condition.
Mike Cornell, SECC's assistant superintendent, and Thomas O'Guin, functional unit manager and work release coordinator, presented information on the SECC's inmate labor program and answered questions for Mississippi County officials during the regular county commission meeting Thursday.
"We do not sell skilled labor," O'Guin said. "We provide a service to the county at a very minimal cost."
However, the inmate laborers will stay on task and the county may get lucky and end up with someone skilled or trainable. "They actually have a lot of pride in their work," said O'Guin.
The cost for the county is $7.50 per inmate per day. The inmate receives $7.50 for their day's work, but the county pays the state, and the state in turn pays the inmate.
"These offenders are the property of the State of Missouri," said O'Guin. "We do not want these offenders being treated as an employee, because they are an offender."
Inmates are covered by the state's insurance, but the county must supply any necessary safety gear, O'Guin said. "If you provide it, they have to wear it."
O'Guin said documenting all safety training on equipment is important to protect against frivolous lawsuits.
Participating inmates are the lowest security risks, at custody level 1 or 2 on a scale of 1-5, and usually have less than 30 months left to serve on their sentences.
No dangerous felons are allowed to participate or criminals that may cause concern in the community such as sex offenders. "It is a privilege for the offender," said O'Guin.
There are three things the inmates are not allowed to do: they must not operate any vehicle that requires a Missouri driver's license; they can not work with explosives; and they can not burn anything.
"They can pile the brush up as long as someone else strikes the match," O'Guin explained.
If a contract is signed, O'Guin said the labor must be used year round, and not as seasonal or temporary labor.
For their part, the county will be required to have a trained supervisor or supervisors who takes custody of the inmates during the work day.
The mandatory training for supervisors consists of one eight-hour session and a short renewal session each following year. O'Guin said he usually offers a training session each month. "MoDOT is continually training staff," O'Guin said, adding that MoDOT is planning on training everyone in their department. "I would train all employees who come into contact with the offenders," he advised.
Richard Wallace agreed it would be best to train all his employees as supervisors. "Then they can go with anyone," he said.
"We will assign a crew based on how many you want to start with," said O'Guin. Crew members would be replaced as inmates finish their sentences or at the request of the county. He recommended starting with around 4-6 inmates. "That's a perfect crew size."
Considered a "transitional program," the job provides an opportunity for the inmate to rebuild their dignity and move back toward being a productive citizen in addition to making a little money, O'Guin said.
O'Guin said East Prairie is presently using four inmates and MoDOT's southeast district is using three crews for total of 26 inmates.
In other Mississippi County Commission business:
* Commissioners granted permission for Silvey Barker from the Mississippi County Tourism Council and Lisa Hillhouse, director of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce, to update the county's Web site.
"They are spending a lot of time and effort on the Lewis and Clark stuff," said Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg.
Barker also discussed other enhancements she would like to add to the site such as a map and listings of local professional services such as doctor offices.
* Commissioners approved refunding Bobby Carter $100 for merchant license fees paid on Ace Ready Mix, a business that hasn't been operating since 1998.
"It's automatically put on the tax bill," Blumenberg said of the $25 annual fee.