Charleston prison axes work release program for Mississippi County

Sunday, December 5, 2010

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- It was a program that seemed to be good for Mississippi County, good for the Southeast Correctional Center and good for the participating prisoners. Now the prison's work release program with the county is no more.

A letter from the Missouri Department of Corrections dated Nov. 9 addressed to Presiding Commissioner Jim Blumenberg said the work release contract with the county has been terminated.

The contract termination is because of "a number of violations of the work release contract," Southeast Correctional Center warden Jeff Norman said in the letter.

The alleged violations are all related to one inspection) officer, said Richard Wallace, superintendent of the county road and bridge department. "Any time he came, he always carried a chip on his shoulder."

Wallace said he permitted the officer to inspect county employees' vehicles and his office "several different times" before "I just got fed up with it. ... There's no sense in that kind of stuff."

Prisoners, who volunteer for the program, are screened by the Department of Corrections for eligibility to ensure they are low-risk. Inspections of participating work sites are required.

"I didn't mind them going through county property," Wallace said, but "they're not going to treat us like prisoners."

Wallace said an example of a violation found by the officer are antique bottles and a nonfiring firearm relic that decorate his office.

"I keep it locked," he said of his office. "Nobody has access but me."

Wallace said he regrets the loss of the prisoners working for the county at his department but said the inspection officer seemed determined to find some sort of violation.

"It just hurts the program," he said.

"They're good workers and they like doing it," Commissioner Robert Jackson said of the participating prisoners.

"They were good help for us," Blumenberg said.

Norman was not available for comment regarding the violations as of press time.

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