Originally created 08/06/99

Schools utilize inmates



Richmond County school officials say hiring state prisoners for maintenance duties saves thousands of dollars each year.

The school board's maintenance budget is about $6 million a year.

So why aren't they using school employees? Citizens asked that question at a recent meeting.

"It frees them up to do other things," said Donald Porter, Director of Public Information. "Instead of us having to hire more full-time maintenance workers we're able to utilize this relationship to handle the outside stuff, primarily, moving furniture in warehouses and stuff like that."

Richmond County pays $128,742 for salaries and benefits of two guards and the cost of meals, medical expenses, and housing for 12 prisoners.

Augusta City Administrator Randy Oliver said the state pays the county $21 a day for the 175 prisoners the county takes from the state -- including the 12 used by the school board.

"Twenty-one dollars a day is not enough," Mr. Oliver said. "What the school board pays is the difference of what it cost us to keep the inmates. We are under no obligation to take the inmates and if the school board doesn't want them, we'll be glad to take them back."

Mr. Oliver said it cost the county about $33 a day to house inmates, whom they mostly take because of overcrowding in state prisons.

The 163 prisoners not used by the school board are used by the Department of Transportation.

School officials have used state inmates since 1968, in areas where no students are present, Mr. Porter said.

The inmates, who work full-time five days a week, are in uniform and usually have committed nonviolent crimes such as burglary or shoplifting, Mr. Oliver said.

The school board has nine full-time grounds workers, five of whom do nothing but cut grass, the other four repair stadiums and basketball goals, hauling trash and marking soccer fields, Mr. Porter said.

The Aiken County school system also has its own maintenance department, which employs about 60 people. But last year, school officials found a new way of helping overworked custodians, who are considered part of the maintenance department.

They hired students who work for the district part time.

Columbia County uses its own maintenance crews for work around schools.

Faith Johnson covers education. She can be reached at (706) 823-3765 or faithj@augustachronicle.com.