Paying Off Debt to Society With Labor

By Randy McIlwain
|  Thursday, Mar 25, 2010  |  Updated 6:45 PM CDT
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Collin County Inmates Clean Up

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Inmates and on people are probation are a new, free labor pool all across Collin County.

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Collin County Inmates Clean Up

Collin County inmates who volunteer with the inmate worker program have saved Collin County about $500,000.
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Crime does pay after all -- for the Collin County Public Works Department.

All sorts of county projects are getting free labor through an inmate worker program established in early 2009. The program creates labor crews who are incarcerated, on probation or required to do community service.

“It started (with) picking up illegal dump sites and evolved into potholes and working in drainage structures,” said John Kleinaxle, the county's director of public works.

The inmates are all nonviolent, low-risk offenders. They must volunteer to be part of the program.

Curtis Brooks said getting out of his cell to work outside is a reminder of what one bad decision has cost him. In addition to his freedom, he said he has lost “everything -- wife, kids, you name it.”

Nearly every day inmates and people on probation work on crews of five to seven people fan out across the county.

The county once paid employees to do the same jobs. In a time of tight budgets, county employees are now free to work on major projects. The county has saved "well over" $500,000 in labor costs, Kleinaxle said.

The Collin County Sheriff’s and Public Works departments are discussing ways to expand the inmate worker program to incorporate more trade skills that offenders may be able to take with them when on release and use to find new jobs.

Joshua Jackson, who has been in jail for two weeks, said fixing potholes has reminded him that there are always bumps in the road in life. And he said he welcomes the chance to get outside.

"If you haven't seen the air for a while, it's a good feeling, fresh air," he said.

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