More State Prisoners Heading To Work Release Program In Springdale

SPRINGDALE -- New laborers with a motivation to work hard will soon join the city's workforce.

The Arkansas Department of Correction is expanding its work release program from 42 inmates to 100 after renovating the old armory building at 600 W. Sunset Ave.

At A Glance

Springdale Armory

Springdale’s armory construction started in 1946, and it was dedicated in March 1947. The 8,700-square-foot building cost $60,000. Local National Guard proponents raised $15,000 of the cost.

Source: Shiloh Museum Of Ozark History

Program participants will work in positions that employers have a hard time filling, such as jobs at chicken plants and warehouses, said Jim Brooks, program supervisor.

"Employers like our people because they show up every day on time," Brooks said. "We deliver them to the door. If they create problems, we send them back to prison."

Employers have committed to hiring additional inmates, said Brooks, who has supervised the program for more than a decade. City departments will use nine workers from the program, up from five, he said.

Companies pay the prisoners the same pay as other employees, Brooks said. The inmates pay the Department of Correction for room and board.

The city uses the prisoners to clean City Hall, the airport terminal, the main fire station, the police Criminal Investigation Division building and the information technology building, said Wyman Morgan, city director of administration and financial services. The new workers could go to the animal shelter and clean the Razorback Regional Greenway trail inside city limits, he said.

The Department of Correction has a contract with the city to lease the armory for $1 a year for 25 years. Workers in the program provide three meals a day for all prisoners in the city jail.

"We've rarely had a problem with the workers," Morgan said. "We had one with a smart mouth a couple of years ago, and a supervisor found four of them smoking. They sent all of them back, and we had new workers the next day."

Only two prisoners have walked away in recent years, and both were caught the same day and sent back to prison, Brooks said.

Apart from those outliers, the workers generally are highly motivated, Springdale Police Capt. Mike Peters said.

"They know, if they keep their nose clean, they'll be out of here," Peters said.

Money for the expansion became available July 1, said Shea Wilson, public information officer for the Correction Department. Participants from around the state should fill all 100 beds by the end of next week, she added.

The 58 beds are part of about 600 the Correction Department is opening up across the state to deal with persistent overcrowding. The General Assembly's special session last week gave more than $6 million to the overall effort, including the Springdale expansion, as a short-term solution.

The work release program will add 13 staff members, Brooks said.

Prisoners in work release programs have to be classified 1A, a status earned with good behavior and no discipline problems, Wilson said. Participants cannot be violent offenders, Brooks said.

The length of time each prisoner spends in work release varies, Wilson said. They have to be within 42 months of being eligible for parole and could spend the entire 42 months on work release, she said.

The Department of Correction will pay up to $1 million for the armory renovation. Prisoners did all the labor for the renovation during the past year, Brooks said. The contract calls for the city to pay for insurance and the Correction Department to pay maintenance and utilities.

The work release center opened in Springdale in 1980, Brooks said.

The main room of the 8,000-square-foot armory was converted to sleeping quarters and the bathroom and kitchen expanded. An 1,800-square-foot adjoining building was renovated to use for visitation, conferences and a day room, Brooks said.

NW News on 07/10/2014