Inmate labor proves cost-effective, will expand

A program that assigns inmate labor to county departments worked so well in the past year, it is being tripled in size.

Pasco County commissioners have agreed to increase the program from one crew, up to three crews, effective April 25.

Animal services, public works, parks and recreation, and facilities management are the beneficiaries.

The funds for the expansion weren’t initially in the fiscal year 2016 budget. But, county staff members say the program saves the county from contracting for services or hiring additional employees.

“Staff believes we get a lot of bang for the buck,” said Heather Grimes, Pasco’s assistant county administrator.

Commissioners approved about $161,000 to cover the remaining months for fiscal year 2016, and about $215,000 as an ongoing annual amount for the program.

Inmates serving time for nonviolent crimes, and who have been screened by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, can be considered for the program.

Previously, several departments shared a single crew of five inmates who might work at one location in the morning, eat lunch and then be driven to another work site to finish the day.

Now, a five-member crew will work Monday-Friday at animal services; another five-member crew, also Monday-Friday, will divide time between parks and recreation, and facilities management. And, a four-member crew will work a four-day week with the public works department.

Duties will include cleaning cages and dog runs at the animal shelter, as well as roadside ditch cleaning, weed control, landscaping and maintenance, graffiti removal, roadside litter collection, street sweeping, and painting at various locations.

Inmate labor has been a success at animal services, said Mike Shumate, the county’s animal services director.

Previously, the animal shelter could stay open until 6:30 p.m., on Thursday only. Now, he said the shelter extends its hours to 6:30 p.m., on Tuesday through Saturday, with the goal of increasing adoptions and making it easier for residents to pick up their impounded pets.

The program’s expansion is another opportunity to improve services and adoptions, Shumate said.

For instance, he said, an animal behaviorist will show inmates how to train the dogs, so the animals interact better with people looking to adopt.

“We can socialize them a little better,” said Shumate. “We’ll get them ready to adopt out.”

Published May 4, 2016

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