To some, the concept of inmate labor outside of a correctional institution conjures images from "Cool Hand Luke," where chain gangs cleared ditches and resurfaced roads by hand as cruel "bosses" watched over their labors under a blistering deep south sun.
Indeed, there was a time when some sentences carried the added punishment of "hard labor." That was forced labor, mandatory labor.
There is no forced labor in the criminal justice system that we know of, but thanks to a program at the Warren County Jail, there is an opportunity for labor for those inmates who qualify to do work for the public good outside the confines of their cells.
For them, any time outside doing almost any sort of work is a respite from the crushing boredom of the cell block.
For us, their labors enhance the community, whether it is shoveling snow or pulling weeds.
For them, it is a chance to regain some self-esteem, build some confidence, re-establish a work ethic they will need when they finally leave the custody of the county.
Remember, the inmates who qualify for "off-campus" work aren't hardened violent criminals. Their sentences are relatively short. Otherwise, they would be serving their time in a state institution.
They qualify for the opportunity to busy themselves on the outside by good behavior and demonstrating that they are not a risk to public safety.
The outside work program at the Warren County Jail taps not just the labor of inmates, but their skills as well, skills that are wasted staring at the ceiling of a jail cell.