Maricopa residents may have been noticing a few orange jumpsuits assisting with public works projects around the city in recent months.
As part of a cost-saving program, inmates from a state prison in Florence have been working with the city to tackle various improvement projects around the community.
Public Works Director Bill Fay said the city has been using the program for roughly four months. The department has estimated the program could save the city $260,000 annually.
Inmates primarily work to trim overgrowth in rights of way and in some of the washes around town, Fay said. They also help with the occasional minor concrete repair such as filling potholes and sealing cracks in roadways.
“As they get better at it, we may use them for more and more asphalt repair,” Fay said.
As for the inmates’ attitudes and work ethic, he said, they are “the best-behaved guys.”
In his experience working with similar programs in other cities, inmates like this are hardworking and often maintain good behavior in order to participate.
“If they mess up at all, they get pulled off the crew,” Fay said.
The inmate workers are not accompanied by correctional officers or law enforcement, Fay said, which is an indication of the kind of security threat they may pose.
These inmates are not violent and do not pose security concern, he said. Most are extreme DUI cases or other non-violent offenders.
There is a city employee who facilitates the work, but that facilitator is not security detail.
“If somebody decides to take off, his job is not to stop them. His job is to pick up the phone,” Fay said.
However, it’s unlikely they would run, he added.
“These guys might have a two-year sentence and they’re one year into it. If they escape, they’ll get picked up someday in the future and end up serving eight or 10 years,” he said. “It’s kind of like getting a home equity loan. If they know you’ve got a big pile of home equity they’re willing to loan you money because they know you’re not going to walk away from it.”
The only expense the city sees with this program is the use of a city van and the extra time it takes one employee to pick up and drop off the workers in Florence.
Fay said he is unsure about any rehabilitative effect the program has, aside from the good behavior inmates must exhibit to participate, but he knows they strive to maintain their places on the crew.
“It’s hard labor, it’s hot and dirty work, but they’re fighting to do it,” Fay said. “I may not understand what all the values going into it are, but they do and they’re voting with their time.”