On any given day, up to 175 inmates in white jumpsuits can be seen working along local highways. Viewed from a car window, they move deliberately -- cleaning roadside trash, clearing retention ponds and maintaining local ball fields. They are out there to help keep the county clean, but they are also there for a second chance, prison officials say.
"I really feel like it's an esteem builder, and it has to evoke some type of do-right feeling in them," said Robert Ealy, a Georgia Department of Corrections detail supervisor.
Mr. Ealy made his assessment on a recent Friday while standing near a large, mostly dry, retention pond off Tobacco Road, watching an eight-man work crew cut grass as high as their knees.
After seven years on the job, Mr. Ealy said, his impressions of his work and of the inmates have changed. As a child growing up in Augusta, he said he would see guards holding firearms as they watched inmates at work.
Now, Mr. Ealy said, he doesn't carry so much as a can of pepper spray.
Part of the reason, according to Richmond County Correctional Institute Warden Robert Leverett, is that the inmates are low- to medium-security individuals who have been through two security screenings.
"They are all nonviolent offenders," he said. "Forgery, burglary, drug possession or something of that nature (are their charges)."
The warden said they don't worry too much about them trying to escape either.
Most have come from much more restrictive prisons and are close, sometimes weeks, from parole.
To further limit temptation, none of the inmates is assigned to work in the area where they were sentenced.
"That's simply because we have to send people out to work and we would not want to send them to your neighborhood if they had burglarized your home," he said. The majority of the inmates working in Richmond County come from the Savannah area, he said.
Despite such precautions, the public is warned not to get too friendly with the men trimming grass or chopping weeds.
The inmates are forbidden from taking anything, including a cool glass of something to drink, from onlookers.
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT DO THEY DO?
BY THE NUMBERS
200 : The number of workers at Richmond County Correctional Institute, the largest cleaning crew in the county.
175 : The number of inmates doing jobs in Richmond County during the workweek.
8 : The number of men in a typical work detail.
Source: Warden Robert Leverett
Inmates work eight hours a day, Monday through Friday. Their duties include clearing retention ponds, painting fire hydrants, planting and pruning trees, building and repairing fences for the Solid Waste Department, cooking and barbering.
About 12 prisoners are able to work outside the detention center at the sheriff's office, for North Augusta Public Works and at the Aiken County Probate office, sheriff's Lt. Michael Frank said. They typically do manual labor and help clean the sheriff's office.
Inmates in Columbia County have already cleaned about 400 miles of road this year, according to sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. There are two details, and each has six inmates.