Inmates considered for rest area cleanup jobs

By Andy Jenks - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Prison or jail inmates may one day be a small part of your next road trip.

A state commission proposes letting non-violent inmates do the clean-up work at Virginia's highway rest areas. The idea is meant to save money, but at what cost to safety?

Evelyn Beard takes a lot of pride in what she does with her rake.

"We do whatever's necessary to make the place clean," Beard said.

Evelyn works at the highway rest area in Goochland, one of 42 in Virginia. But suddenly, it's almost like she's on the endangered list. Not that she minds.

"If they can get somebody to come in here and do it for free, I think they should," Beard said.

Gov. Bob McDonnell's Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring proposes letting inmates do the job instead. The inmates wouldn't exactly work for free, but the cost would likely be much less than the $21 million Virginia already spends on rest area cleanup.

"We pay about $1.50 an hour [to the Department of Corrections] for each inmate on the highways," said VDOT's Jeff Caldwell.

Under current Virginia law, inmates are allowed work detail on rural primary roads and secondary roads, but they're prohibited from interstate highways and rest areas. The current proposal would give rest area custodial jobs to those serving time for misdemeanors, only.

"Could be driving violations, could be simple assault. It could be not paying a fine," said Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody.

Woody is confident the non-violent offenders chosen for the potential jobs would not be a threat.

"The key word is non-violent. That is the key word for us to realize," Woody said.

However, not all lawmakers are on board with the idea. The details are still being worked out among several state departments, including VDOT and the Department of Corrections.

"To make sure that the policies are in place and that their activities and our activities coincide to make  sure that everyone remains safe, and yet we get the work done on our highways," Caldwell said.

It could be months before a final plan is created. So until a decision is made, Evelyn will keep going to work until she's told to go somewhere else.

"That would be fine with me. I could go home and let my husband support me...hahaha!" she said.

The inmate labor proposal was created by the same commission that recently signed off on privatizing Virginia's ABC stores. The proposals ultimately need General Assembly approval.

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