Prison crews cleaning up Interstate 55

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Across the state every day approximately 340 inmates work for the Missouri Department of Transportation picking up trash, cutting grass, trimming brush and generally making the state's roads and intersections look better.

Locally, work crews from the prison in Charleston, Mo., have been picking trash up along Interstate 55, and in the Cape Girardeau area they have been cleaning up the roadway by Westfield Shoppingtown West Park, said Tommy Woods, field mechanic for MoDOT in Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

"They can't drive vehicles or anything like that," Woods said. "They mow the grass around the MoDOT sheds, clean the trucks and do manual labor."

The crew from Charleston is one of 65 MoDOT inmate work crews. They are minimum-security offenders, said Department of Corrections spokesman John Fougere. The inmates are nonviolent offenders who are serving time for drug, forgery and other such charges.

"They have to have good conduct records while they're confined," Fougere said.

Woods said the work crews from the prison have done a good job and that there have been few instances of anyone walking away from a work site. Most of them are close to their release date and don't want to jeopardize that.

"If one person messes up, that messes up the whole crew," Woods said. "They pretty well police themselves."

MoDOT estimates that the labor the prisoners provide has saved the state approximately $13 million so far this year. The program has been in effect 17 years.

"The cooperation between the departments of corrections and transportation over many years is truly an example of how executive departments can work together for the mutual benefit of both agencies and more importantly, Missouri citizens at large," said Department of Corrections director Gary Kempker.

Kempker said the work the prisoners do is part of their reparation. A side benefit, he said, is the beautification of state highways.

335-6611, extension 160

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