People who adopt pets from MASH must promise to care for them with love and affection while satisfying routine needs: adequate meals, water and ongoing medical care. They also must agree to return unwanted animals to a no-kill shelter or to MASH.
The program has saved the county millions of dollars, created a positive way to teach inmates a work ethic, and provided them a chance to give back to the community at no cost to the county. What could be smarter in these days of massive government budget deficits? It comes down to using government dollars wisely and taking advantage of a large and often willing resource, an overflowing inmate population.
The idea of using inmate labor is nothing new. Inmates have always been used inside prison and jail facilities to reduce inmate idleness and provide needed services. County jails have long used inmates on work crews that maintain county roads and collect highway litter. These minimal efforts have barely touched the potential of the jail and prison population, and weren't aimed at making a profit or reducing government expenditures.
Some states are considered models, demonstrating new ways to use the untapped resources that lie within jail and prison walls. In Kansas, low-risk prison inmates have been the main source of labor for state park services and maintenance for more than 40 years. In California, inmate firefighters contribute three million man-hours fighting forest fires; they save the state more than $80 million dollars each year. The inmates work alongside professional firefighters, distinguished only by their prison garb.
In Decatur, Georgia, inmates at the regional prison do so much work for the county and other counties that contract for their work that the prison, which covers its $2 million operational costs, is more than self-sufficient. Inmates with special skills provide labor in valuable arenas such as mechanics and roofing. Others do grass cutting, road work and construction. They also can pick up valuable skills, such as running heavy machinery, while working at the Decatur County solid-waste facility.
Clearly, not all inmates are candidates for outside, supervised work. But many opportunities exist to offset recession-exacerbated budget gaps. In Colorado, some 17,000 inmates have jobs in works programs managed by Colorado Correctional Industries, a self-funded division of the Colorado Department of Corrections. These inmates make fishing rods, dorm furniture, file cabinets, clothing and a multitude of other items, generating more than $65 million in revenue last year.
In these days of ballooning deficits and rising prison costs crowding out other spending priorities, a long-term, fiscally responsible approach to criminal justice is a resoundingly good idea.
Statements made in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinion or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.