Men wearing orange jumpsuits, bearing the words “Arizona Department of Corrections” may soon be seen in Oro Valley working on landscaping and other unfinished projects.
Oro Valley officials are considering a program that has been successful in Marana for the last eight years by contracting with ADOC for inmate labor.
After holding a public meeting and discussing the issue, Interim Town Manager Greg Caton said Oro Valley is implementing a test program where the town will use labor by low-risk inmates for projects that the limited staff just can’t get to.
Marana officials speak highly of the program in its community. But Oro Valley decided to take a serious look at it when Councilman Will Garner and Sen. Al Melvin, D-District 26, pushed for it.
Melvin calls the inmate labor program a “win/win situation” for all parties involved.
“In this time of tight budgets, every city or town should be looking at this,” he said. “It’s a real winner, and that’s why I am a proponent.”
With the town struggling with the budget, and some projects falling to the wayside because of a lack of manpower, participating in a cost-effective program is a good plan, said Garner.
Going into more detail, Melvin explained that Arizona currently has 40,000 inmates in the state prison system. Of those, 6,000 inmates are considered low-risk, and many of them are about to be released.
Besides towns getting work done to beautify a community, Melvin said these inmates are gaining valuable work experience that will prepare them for their return to the workforce and society.
Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said his community has taken advantage of the program for eight years, with no negative incidents to report.
The savings to the town have been tremendous, said Davidson. Marana saves about $175,000 per year in employee salaries, and the work done by the inmates is valued at about $300,000 per year.
The cost to the Town of Marana to maintain a contract with the Department of Corrections is $10,000.
Josh Wright, Marana’s director of strategic initiatives, said a perfect example of the benefits could be seen last week as town crews along with state inmates worked to clear weeds and trees from the roadside just east of Interstate 10 near Cortaro Road.
To start, Caton said Oro Valley won’t be signing an annual contract. The town will work with the ADOC on an as-needed basis. That means the town will call on the inmates when a project that town staff can’t handle comes up.
“In the beginning we are going to be selective,” Caton said. “Inmate use will really be minimal, and we’ll see how it goes.”
The first order of business is buffelgrass, which Oro Valley Mayor Satish Hiremath called an “invasive” weed that is taking over some of the town’s medians on major roadways.
“This program is a great idea because are going to get the weeds pulled. We are looking at the restoration of some physical structures in areas such as Steam Pump Village,” he said.
Some citizens have expressed a concern about safety. However, the ADOC only allows criminals who are labeled low-risk to participate.
Marana officials said one reason not to worry about safety is because the inmates doing the work are nearing the end of a prison term, and the risk of escaping isn’t worth it.
A date for inmates to start working on the medians in Oro Valley has not been determined.