After two years of steady gains, the Carroll County Prison's inmate garden is reaping so much this year that the prison can't use all the food. So what to do with the extra? Donate it to the Carroll County Soup Kitchen of course. Already, the Prison has donated 500 lbs of food to the Soup Kitchen, and the harvest isn't over yet.
“The garden has been such a great success that we simply couldn’t use all the produce this year,” said Prison Warden Jason Driver. “We know that there are plenty of people who benefit from the Soup Kitchen, and we’re happy to help where we can.”
Not only has the garden been a boon for the Soup Kitchen and offset some of the costs of feeding the inmates, said Deputy Warden Tim Tant, but it also gives the inmates life skills for when they’re released.
“It’s really just to help as far as the inmates go,” he said. “It gives them some fresh vegetables and some pride in growing their own food.”
In addition to the corn, tomatoes, peas and watermelon grown at the garden, the Prison also boasts 30 hens, which keep the inmates in supply of eggs in the morning.
While the exact food savings from the garden are unclear, it’s certainly quantifiable how much inmate labor on the whole saves the county government and taxpayers alike.
Inmate labor through the Carroll County Prison is estimated at saving the county more than $3.7 million annually, providing construction, janitorial and other services that would otherwise need to be done by county employees; the county would inevitably have to hire more employees to do this work, coming at an ultimate cost to the taxpayer.
Anyone who has traveled around Carroll County has seen at least one of the 32 different labor details that go out every day, but what most people don’t realize is how many different services the roughly 170 inmates in the labor program provide for local residents, said Tant.
From doing roadwork to cutting the trails at Little Tallapoosa Park to taking care of the cats and dogs at the county animal shelter, the tasks set before the inmates are both big and small, simple and complex. If the county had to hire additional employees to do the work the inmates do free of charge, it would certainly come at a substantial cost to the county, and services to residents would ultimately be affected, Tant said.
“The inmate garden is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to inmate labor,” Prison Warden Jason Driver said. “It’s a big-time savings to the county in so many different areas.”
According to numbers from Driver, the net savings for the county that comes because of inmate labor is slightly more than $5.5 million a year, based upon a 40-hour work week at $12 an hour with benefits included. The hourly rate is based upon an average of inmate workers doing skilled labor, like masonry or electrical work—which pays roughly $25 an hour in the private sector—coupled with inmates doing unskilled work, which pays a standard minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
The total appropriation for the prison in the 2010-2011 fiscal year is $3.2 million, though $1.5 million of that is paid by the state, as the local prison houses state inmates. The final cost to the county of feeding and housing the inmates—about $1.7 million a year—can then be taken from the net savings, and it comes to an actual savings of just under $3.8 million annually. The yearly savings translates to roughly 7 percent of the county’s total budget.
Commission Chairman Bill Chappell, who initiated the inmate garden program three years ago, said the success of the program is testament to the hard work the inmates and the prison staff have put into it.
"We use inmate labor for a whole lot of things," Chappell said. "This is just a great example of how it can be used to benefit the community as a whole."