Minimum-security state prisoners back at work in city
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Some motorists who drove through Atmore on Monday or Tuesday probably caught a glimpse of something that was once common within the city but for the past 18 months or so has been non-existent.
A handful of state inmates who are part of the Alabama Department of Corrections’ (ADOC) Community Work Program (CWP) returned Monday, August 2, to Atmore to assist with garbage and trash collection, parks and grounds beautification and other jobs within the municipal landscape.
Calvin Grace, director of the city’s Streets & Sanitation Department, said more should be on the way.
“We only got five yesterday, but we’re trying to get 20,” said Grace, who met with Fountain Correctional Facility Warden Reosha Butler last week and attended a mandatory class for city officials who oversee program participants. “It’s nice to have them back. We had to attend a class last week, like we do every three months, to be able to check them out (of prison).”
Prior to CWP being put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the state’s inmate population, the city employed 19 prisoners. City Clerk Becca Smith estimated at that time that the group, for which the city paid ADOC “about $92,000 a year,” generated potential payroll and payroll-related savings of more than $600,000 per year for the city.
Under the program, state inmates assigned to minimum-custody correctional facilities — such as Fountain Correctional Annex, where local work-release inmates have been housed since ADOC closed its J.O. Davis Work Release Center more than two years ago — are considered for work details with local and state government agencies.
Governmental subdivisions that use CWP resources — including Atmore, Brewton, Flomaton and Escambia County — pay a daily fee of $15 per inmate. That fee is used to cover the costs of transporting the inmates to and from their work assignments, as well as other program expenses, and each work-release inmate receives $2 per day.
Grace said residents and visitors to the city might not immediately notice the positive effect of the extra help. But, he said, they will soon, when the expected influx of inmates occurs and city crews, who have some new equipment that hasn’t been fully tested yet, are able to attack more tasks at once.
“You can’t notice it that much yet,” he said. “But when we get 20 in here, you’ll start to see a lot of difference. With the inmates, that frees up other workers to do other things, like cleaning out our ditches. They will be a lot of help.”
Prisoners who meet minimum criteria for placements at a work release and community work center may be considered for the program.
Inmates who are nearing the end of their sentences, or close to a possible parole date, may be assigned to a minimum custody level correctional facility, if they meet all the criteria. Inmates who have been sentenced to life without parole or consecutive life sentences are not eligible for the work release program.
In addition, corrections officials say the program gives the Board of Pardons and Paroles a means of evaluating the inmate’s suitability for parole “by using the inmate’s community work experience as a measure to determine the inmate’s success when paroled.”
The only difference in the former CWP inmates and the current ones will be the color of uniform they are wearing, Grace said. Instead of the traditional white prison garb, the inmate employees will be wearing beige shirts and pants.
Atmore Mayor Jim Staff said before CWP was postponed that the program has been a blessing for the city over the past several years, providing much of the manpower needed to operate Grace’s department, as well as the city’s Cemetery and Beautification departments.
“They save the city a bunch of money,” the mayor said. “They do a fantastic job, and they don’t fuss.”