Originally created 05/24/00

Program beneficial to all



EDGEFIELD, S.C. - The Edgefield County Board of Education has seven inmates and the Federal Correctional Institution to thank for their new building.

Only 11 weeks ago, the board of education, in cooperation with prison officials, broke ground and began construction on an addition to their office complex. The building houses a board room, offices and bathrooms.

Seven inmates from the minimum security area at the prison did all the labor.

"The inmates did an excellent job," Warden M.E. Ray said. "And it was an opportunity where we could give something back to the community."

Matt McGinnis, camp administrator at the prison, said jail officials don't allow just any convict to work in the community.

"The inmates have to be non-violent, have relatively short sentences and have to possess trade skills necessary to put this together," he said. "But the first (criterion) is that they are not a threat to the public."

With approximately 250 to 275 minimum-security inmates, prison officials welcome opportunities to work for their neighboring communities. The federal facility has been working projects for Edgefield, Johnston and surrounding areas since it opened in 1998.

And the school board couldn't be happier with the service.

"It's been a great project," said Dr. Sharon W. Keesley, superintendent of the Edgefield County's schools. "We certainly couldn't have done it without them."

And the board inaugurated the addition with a board meeting Tuesday evening.

Dr. Keesley heard about all the work the program was doing when served on the community relations board for the prison. It took only her request to get the ball rolling on the board of education meeting room.

"And we saved in labor costs - close to one-third - and saved about $100,000," she said.

But the program does not displace local workers, they only work on projects where no contractors would have been used anyway, said Michael Smith, executive assistant at the prison.

"We were going to use internal labor. We would not have displaced workers," Dr. Keesley said. "But that would have taken forever."

Instead, the recent addition only took 11 weeks from start to finish.

Steve Simmons, one of the inmates on the project, said the work crew is made up of volunteers.

Mr. Simmons has been in the minimum-security facility for six years and is down to 27 days. He is studying to become a master electrician when he gets out.

Reach Lisa Lohr at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.