Every day, more than 1,500 inmates from correctional facilities in Missouri and Kansas enjoy the perks that come with working in the community, says the Kansas City Star. They clean trash off highways. They mow grass at schools. They pull up carpet and build stages at churches. Sometimes, they dress in tuxedos and serve hors d’oeuvres at the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City. (U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft benefited from such services while serving as governor.)
The program provides taxpayers hundreds of thousands – and perhaps millions – of dollars worth of work for a fraction of what it otherwise would cost. In Kansas inmates worked more than 1 million hours in fiscal year 2004 doing what the state calls “community service.” With the Department of Corrections paying a maximum $1.05 a day, rather than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, that is a difference of more than $5 million. Of about 30,000 inmates in Missouri, about 940 work in the community. Of those, the majority makes $7.50 per day. Inmates who take part in the voluntary programs are watched at all times by at least one supervisor. Typically, a single supervisor is in charge of a crew that could range from two or three inmates to seven or eight. The unarmed supervisors go through elaborate training and receive detailed instructions about what the inmates can and cannot do.