Official: Convict laborers needed

Growth proposed for work program

— The chairman of the Board of Corrections Friday proposed sending more prison inmates to perform maintenance and cooking duties at county and city jails, saying demand currently outstrips supply in the popular Act 309 program.

Boone County will break ground on a new 103-bed jail in August and has built a barracks just to house program inmates, Benny Magness said.

Currently, 281 inmates are assigned to sheriffs in more than 40 Arkansas counties and police chiefs in about a half-dozen cities.

"We're going to have to look at increasing that population to about 300," Magness said.

"I don't disagree with you," Department of Correction Director Larry Norris replied. "And, of course, we'll take it into consideration." But the state prison system requires inmates to farm thousands of acres and work on department construction projects - including building most of the Ouachita River Unit in Malvern - and Norris said that manpower "is very important to us."

Act 309 inmates are housed in county or city jails, wherethey cook, clean, do laundry and other kinds of public work. The program is popular among sheriffs because it allows them to save money. The state benefits with a reduction in prison crowding.

Prison officials say the program also offers well-behaved inmates a way to reintegrate to the outside world.

The state pays $15 a day per inmate to the counties and cities.

The program made headlines earlier this year when Lonoke County Prosecuting Attorney Lona McCastlain accused Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and his wife, Kelly, of using drugs with the program's inmates and alleged that Kelly Campbell had sex with two of them.

Neither Jay nor Kelly Campbell was convicted on either the drug or sex charges, but they were convicted on corruption charges connected to the 309 program. Jay Campbell received a 40-year prison sentence, while his wife was given 20 years.

The inmates also allegedly performed illegal work for Lonoke officials on private property.

Less-sensational violations have occurred in counties around the state since the program debuted in 1983. Cleburne County lost its 309 program in 2005 after inmates performed labor on private property and a jailer had sex with an inmate.

On Friday, the Corrections Board unanimously voted to restore the county's program. A new sheriff and jail staff were factorsin the county getting a second chance, Correction Department Deputy Director Larry May said.

But because no 309 inmates are available, it might be months before the county gets one.

"And it's likely to be one, if they're lucky," May said. "Right now, the only way to pick up [a 309 inmate] is if a program were to cease to exist."

Cleburne County's new sheriff, Marty Moss, hired a new jail administrator shortly after taking office in January and has written a stringent policy governing the program's inmates. He would like five or six, about the number the county had before it lost the program.

Moss said he won't tolerate any misbehavior with any state inmates housed in his 90-bed jail.

"This is a jail. This is not a camp of any kind. We'll just have to use common sense," he said in a phone interview Friday.

He plans to have the inmates cook, clean and maintain the jail. Right now, most of those jobs are done by jail trusties, but short misdemeanor sentences create a constant turnover.

"I never know who I'm going to have," Moss said. "I'd like some stability."

Boone County Sheriff Danny Hickman said he needs 309 program inmates to make his new jail, scheduled to open in early 2009, work.

The money saved by program inmates performing kitchen, laundry and vehicle maintenance would help defray costs at the new jail, Hickman said in a phone interview. The exact cost of the jail wasn't available Friday.

Arkansas, Pages 13, 22 on 06/23/2007

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