NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — When cash-strapped communities are faced with costly building maintenance, sometimes they have no choice but to delay the work, to the detriment of local infrastructure.
But in Worcester County, Sheriff Lew Evangelidis has been pushing a program that he said will make paying for projects easier. The solution: Let prison inmates work for free.
Under the Sheriff Department’s Inmate Community Service Program, minimum security inmates who have been convicted of non-violent offenses and who are serving the last six months of their sentences may earn the opportunity to do work for municipalities and non-profits throughout Worcester County. The assigned projects include carpentry, demolition, painting, landscaping, snow removal and floor tiling, among others.
"I really love this program," Evangelidis said during a visit to Algonquin Regional High School on Monday, where a group of inmates were repainting several rooms in the school’s guidance department.
This is the third year Algonquin has utilized inmate labor. According to Facilities Director Michael Gorman, the school has been able to save more than $40,000 while completing extensive painting projects that it would not otherwise have been able to afford. While the inmates work, all the school has to do is purchase materials and lunch for the crews.
At first, Gorman said, some community members were troubled by the thought of convicted criminals working in a school. But, as Evangelidis said, the rules are strict: Only inmates with spotless prison records may participate, and no work is done while students are in the building. Additionally, the inmates are never left alone and operate under the supervision of an armed police officer.
After three years, Gorman could not recall any problems with the arrangement, adding that the program had garnered "nothing but good reviews."
"These guys just wiped the image right out," he said of the inmates, calling them "respectful."
In addition to working at Algonquin, inmate work crews have also completed projects for the Northborough and Southborough Housing Authorities, saving both towns more than $50,000, Evangelidis said.
"Everybody wins," he said. Since taking office last year, he has more than tripled the size of the program. "Every one of these guys is going to get out," he said of the inmates. "This is a program that helps transition people back to the community."