Burke: Supervision key to work crew

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 2, 1999

Inmate work crews dressed in green and white pants are a common sight in Adams County. The crews, which are made up of Wilkinson County Correctional Facility inmates, are in high demand for everything from picking up litter to moving furniture.

&uot;We’re the ones that get callouses on our hands,&uot;&160;said Natchez Public Works Director Richard Burke. &uot;It’s general labor work – anything we give them to do.&uot;

Ken Jones of the Mississippi Department of Correction said 17 satellite facilities in the state house inmates eligible for work crews.

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Many counties benefit from the service the work crews provide, he said.

&uot;It’s always in the public interest,&uot; Jones said. &uot;It’s public service work.&uot;

The Natchez Public Works&160;Department also has a work crew of civilians who need help paying off fines they owe the court system.

&uot;The municipal court allows them to work off their fine,&uot; Burke said.

The crew wears normal clothes and is kept separate from the inmate crew.

But the inmate work crew is what often gets the most concern from the community and the strictest policies.

The inmates are considered nonviolent, but the possibility of problems still exists, Jones said.

Last week, a Louisiana prisoner became the second this year to walk away from a Concordia Parish work crew.

The inmate was later apprehended.

Burke said inmates have never escaped from the Natchez crew in his 13 years as director.

Both Burke and Jones agree supervision is key to a crew’s success.

&uot;It will only work as good as the supervision you’re provided,&uot; Burke said.

And about six years ago, Burke stopped using work crews for a short time until he found qualified supervisors.

&uot;The Department of Corrections doesn’t require the standards that I do,&uot; Burke said.

Burke requires his supervisors to have law enforcement experience and to attend inmate training.

Supervisor Bill Beach’s is primarily responsible for transporting and supervising the inmates.

&uot;He’s got years and years of law enforcement to begin with,&uot; Burke said. &uot;He’s a no-nonsense type fellow.&uot;

The supervisors rarely are in charge of more than four inmates at a time. They also do not carry weapons.

Burke said this is not necessary.

&uot;They don’t need to be armed,&uot; Burke said. &uot;The kind of inmates we have here never hurt anybody.

And inmates prefer being placed in a lower-security satellite facility even if it requires them to do crew work,&uot; Jones said.

&uot;It’s in (the inmates’) best interest to maintain a clean record,&uot; Jones said.

And inmates benefit from staying busy, Jones said.

&uot;Work gives them an opportunity to maintain a healthier outlook on life,&uot; he said.

The community also benefits from the free labor, Burke said.

&uot;They work very well. It has helped us out a lot,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s worth the expense of transportation and supervisors.&uot;