Originally created 09/22/99

Inmates around pupils at school



Richmond County school officials said last month that inmates they have hired to work on school grounds do not work in areas where children are present.

But at about 2 p.m. Tuesday, prisoners were seen cutting grass around the playground fence while children at C.T. Walker Traditional Magnet Elementary School played a few feet away.

Schools spokesman Donald Porter did not respond to questions about the apparent contradiction and said Superintendent Charles Larke is out of town.

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Principal Frances Drown said she was aware the inmates were supposed to return to the school this week to cut tall grass on a school field. But Ms. Drown, who was in meetings away from the school at the time, said she doesn't know why they would be near the children.

"I don't know if something happened today and the kids just came outside while they were working," she said. "They usually call me ahead of time to instruct me not to let the kids out."

This year, the school board budgeted $127,742 for salaries and benefits for two guards who watch over 12 prisoners used by the school system.

The board has used inmates since 1968.

Mr. Porter said last month that the inmates work full time throughout the year to do some of the hardest and dirtiest jobs."

He also said the inmates do not work in areas where pupils are present.

Tuesday's incident upset parents and some school board members who said they were told the inmates are not around pupils.

"Because there are so many escapes, I think inmates that are housed inside a jail or prison should not be around children," said Angel Little, vice president of the Parent Teacher Association at C.T. Walker. "I'm not saying anything negative about the persons that are guarding them, but breaks do happen and we could have a hostage situation...."

Richmond County officials say the inmates have been convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors.

Board member Kenneth Echols said he is fed up.

"We were told this was not happening," Mr. Echols said. "I think the board is being lied to and we need to get to the bottom of it."

Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.