Employing inmates in Washington - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Employing inmates in Washington

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PASCO, Wash. -- The Department of Corrections has state prisoners working all over Washington and 200,000 more recently released, on probation. In our area we have five separate work crews, from Coyote Ridge Correctional Center. That's about 45 employees. Columbia Basin College is one of the places employing inmates.

CBC is a place people go to better their lives, and that opportunity is not just for students, but state prison inmates as well.

Bill Saraceno, the Senor VP of Administration at CBC says, "It gives them job skills and we've even hired several that have come out of the program when they've finished with their sentence and hired them as permanent employees here at the college.'

CBC is one of the five contractors in our area using offender work crews from Coyote Ridge. Saraceno says, "they help with a variety of things, they help augment of grounds and our maintenance crew."

Inmate, Sam Ward talked to KNDU. "We work four days a week, eight hours a day, make $1.10 an hour."

$1.10 is much less than the minimum wage requirements in Washington and only county, state and non for profit agencies can use their services.

"It's probably saving the college a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year in state revenue," says Saraceno.

It also gives the prisoners a sense of purpose and lets them make some money.

"Give back to the community a little bit, learn some new job trades, learn how to actually hold down a job," says Ward

"I make about 100 dollars a month and it's not bad... it's been about a thousand dollars all together," explains James Boggan, an inmate at Coyote Ridge.

Most importantly, the program is safe. There is one guard for every nine prisoners and they are heavily screened.

"If they have a sex crime, they're ineligible for off site. A lot of violent offense, we'll negate them from coming out; they won't be allowed to come out. They're under direct supervision by an officer, we're talking in the line of sight at all times," says Sergeant Richard Carmody from Coyote Ridge.

The correctional facility used to have 15 work crews in 2009. They are now down to five, largely because of budget cuts. The DOC must pay a corrections officer anywhere from $16 to $21 per hour to monitor the prisoners and that can add up.