[PHOTO: Melvin Nails, an inmate at the Itawamba County Jail, helps Danny Foster lay the bricks that form the walls of the jail’s new kitchen. According to Sheriff Chris Dickinson, the jail has saved a tremendous amount of money on the project by utilizing inmate labor. - photo by Adam Armour]
By ADAM ARMOUR
Skilled laborers better be good, behave and beware. Since work has begun on a new kitchen for the Itawamba County Jail, jail administrator Kenneth Knight said that he’s on the lookout for a few extra hands.
He was smiling when he made the quip, but much of the kitchen’s construction thus far — which has just entered the roofing stage — has been been performed by inmates. Everything from the plumbing to concrete work has been helped along by the prisoners themselves, a move that has saved the sheriff’s department a tremendous amount of money.
“If we had paid the full amount for all of the labor on the work we’ve done so far, we would have been at about $10,000,” Sheriff Chris Dickinson said. “So far, we’ve saved about half of the cost of having the work contracted out.”
Construction on the kitchen, which is located behind the jail in the former courtyard area, began two weeks ago and has moved ahead steadily. Just days after receiving word from Dickinson that the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors had agreed to allow the construction of the kitchen, Knight set to work deconstructing the fencing around the courtyard area and prepping the site for construction. To do this, he utilized the help of four of his inmates, who he said were glad to be outside and at work.
“You’d be surprised at the skills of the people who are in here,” Knight said. “They’ve really helped us be ahead of the game.”
Dickinson agreed that many of the jail’s inmates have useful skill sets or are simply hard workers, and it made the most sense to utilize this resource in building the jail.
“Most of the people who are in here are hard workers,” Dickinson said. “They’ve just come across hard times.”
These hard workers include James Robbins and Melvin Nails, who were helping local bricklayer Danny Foster raise the walls of the future kitchen. The two inmates worked steadily and without complaint, despite the 90-degree heat.
“It beats being inside all day,” Robbins joked as he shoveled mortar from a wheelbarrow.
The arrangement is of mutual benefit to both the jail itself as well as its residents, who are free to smoke cigarettes, drink sodas and enjoy a hardier meal as a result of their hard labor.
“This really just gives them more freedom,” Kitchens said of the construction work, adding that the inmates also receive $46.20 toward their fines for each day they work outside, versus the $25 they normally earn.
“Those prisoners are happy to be out there,” Knight said, adding that he had one inmate who worked for nine days straight before being told to take a day off. “When we first came to them with the idea, they were ready to go.”
Originally, the sheriff planned on purchasing a FEMA trailer for use as a kitchen. But, following some number-crunching, Dickinson realized that a kitchen could be built for the same cost or less.
Dickinson explained that the cost of purchasing a trailer was about $5,000, almost matching the cost of their brick and mortar kitchen. “We’ve got a block building out here — a capital investment — for the same price that is going to be there forever and will look a lot nicer,” he said.
Knight added that it was due to the availability of inmate labor that building their own kitchen became the most attractive option both aesthetically and financially.
When construction on the jail is completed, it will be supplied with equipment that is either donated or purchased at a lower rate. Dickinson joked that it looked like the only things that he would have to purchase as new would be the air conditioner and door.
“In any event, once we start cooking, we will have saved enough money within six months for everything we have done here,” Dickinson said. “As little as we’ve spent, we can make that money back quickly.”
The sheriff and Knight are both understandably pleased with the money the jail has saved on utilizing inmate labor in the construction of the kitchen. However, according to Dickinson, it’s when they actually get cooking that the county will see the real savings.
According to Dickinson, the jail will begin preparing its own meals on Oct. 1, which is when the county’s catering contract will expire with the beginning of the new fiscal year. He asserted that by preparing its own meals, the jail would be able to eliminate much of the expense of having food catered to the prisoners. He said the jail could prepare its own food at a cost of $1 to $1.50 per day, per prisoner — a significant decrease from the $4.25 it currently pays per meal having the food catered.
The new kitchen will also allow for the prisoners to be served an additional meal per day — breakfast, lunch and dinner as opposed to the two meals they are currently being served. Dickinson promised that even with the hiring of a part-time cook for the jail, the county will see tremendous savings within a short amount of time.
**Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org