Originally created 07/01/03

Work by inmates draws complaint



The policing of Augusta's rights of way for overgrown grass and trash has been left to prison work crews.

And Commissioner Bobby Hankerson isn't as happy about it as he thought he might be.

In a year of budget cuts and declining revenues, Augusta commissioners have depended on inmate work crews to do the work that public works officials say they can no longer afford to do.

Since January, the number of prison crews has nearly doubled, increasing from six to 11, and that number is expected to grow to 14 by the end of the year.

But Mr. Hankerson says that if more crews are working, he can't tell the difference, and he's expected to share his concerns today at an afternoon meeting of the Augusta Commission.

"Somebody's saying we've got 11 inmate crews out there, but I don't know where they are," he said Monday. "We're not getting the results."

In the absence of money for additional public works crews, elected officials have been searching for ways to improve the maintenance of city property without spending more.

In response, a commission subcommittee headed by Mr. Hankerson will present today an updated scheduling plan for inmate work crews. That plan, which has been a work in progress for several months, was expected to keep ditches cleared of debris, rights of way trimmed from overgrowth and detention ponds maintained for effectiveness. Inmate crews also are performing work at cemeteries and for special events, public works officials say.

Although there are more crews on the streets, they have been assigned specific jobs through the public works department, something that is slowing their response to constituents' complaints, Mr. Hankerson said.

But public works officials say the additional crews are addressing work that has piled up for months.

"What our citizens need to understand is that long before we got this schedule, there was a backlog," said Dennis Stroud, assistant director of the public works department's maintenance division.

Prison work crews are made up of six to eight inmates, who must be supervised by one correctional officer. Although each crew costs about $50,000 annually, Mr. Stroud said each also represents an annual savings of about $170,000 over what it would cost for city crews to do the same work.

And, he said, not only is the city saving money, but the workload also has increased.

"A lot more work is being done," Mr. Stroud said, "and it's being done on schedule."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.