Meeting the Challenge: Riverside County’s Use of Inmate Labor

This blog posting and video are part of a series being produced by CSAC to highlight county best practices through our annual Challenge Awards. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The programs being highlighted are recipients of the 2012 awards. The Call for Entries for the 2013 CSAC Challenge Awards has been distributed; the entry deadline is June 28, 2013. 

To review a video about how Riverside County is meeting the challenge, click here.

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Riverside County covers more than 7,000 square miles, and includes some of the most sparsely populated landscape in the state. Keeping a county that big clean isn’t always easy, but Riverside County has a long-running jail inmate work program to pick up trash and maintain the landfills. It helps keep the roadsides clean and the inmates get some much-needed activity.

But a few years ago, Riverside County, like many in the state and across the country, found itself in a very tight budget situation. Money for minor construction and other small projects at the landfills had to be redirected to other priorities — and many of those projects were languishing. That’s when county leaders realized they might just have an untapped asset. What if you could expand the inmate program to include some of these other activities, as well as the typical trash clean up?

Working with the Sheriff’s department, the County Solid Waste Management team expanded their inmate labor program from picking up trash on the weekends, to a six-day a week program that includes a lot of other jobs. “We have inmates doing installing sand bags and straw wattles and there are other needs on the sites too so we have them installing  drainage and even doing asphalt work,” said Project Manager Joe Contaoi.  “You know when we talk to these guys and we find out they have some skills we can put that to use. We can even have them using power tools as long as we provide then training and document that for the Sheriff’s Department.”

The result saves money and time in getting the projects done; but moreover, it may be helping some of the inmates learn a skill, gain some pride and have a brighter future to look forward to when they finish their term. “Some of these guys learn skills that they probably wouldn’t have had, “ said Contaoi “And maybe that helps them down the line when they get out and they can see something positive out of it.”

Those that already have some basic skills get to use them, those that don’t can learn something new, and their time in jail is spent productively. It’s another example of how Counties are turning liabilities into assets, achieving positive results for the people directly involved, and helping taxpayers in the process.

About: Gregg Fishman:
Gregg Fishman is the Communications Coordinator for the California State Association of Counties.

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