North Carolina Department of Correction news release

Small Tool Repair Shop Opens at Caswell Correctional Center

APRIL 28, 1997

YANCEYVILLE - Inmates at the Caswell Correctional Center began retooling equipment today for the Department of Transportation and other public agencies.

Sparked by a Transportation employee's idea, prison managers found space at the medium security prison and support from Piedmont Community College to set up a small tool repair shop and training program. Sixteen inmates have now completed instructor Phil Catlett's 180-hour class and are ready to repair tools.

"We've had a great deal of cooperation in getting this program going and Mr. Catlett has his students excited about putting their new skills to use," said Correction Secretary Mack Jarvis. "This class provides new job prospects for these men who can now be put to work repairing tools for government agencies."

The prison's old dining hall was refurbished with inmate labor and turned into a workshop and classroom. Workbenches are set up for the inmates to examine and test tools.

"We looked for men with eighth-grade reading and tenth-grade math skills," instructor Catlett said. "Then I taught them basic electronics, pneumatics (compressed air tool operation) and repair skills."

Transportation shops from across the state can send boxes of equipment that the repair shop will log in, clean up and test. Some of the problems are minor and may only require replacement of a power cord. Other repairs may be more difficult, but the newly trained inmates are confidant.

"After weeks and weeks in the classroom to get the mechanical know-how, we can repair small tools," said inmate Michael Brown of High Point. "We learned to read schematics and to make repairs on all types of equipment."

The men open the tools and spread parts across the top of their work bench. They study the schematics, clean parts and use diagnostic equipment to spot problems.

"If its got a motor, we can fix it," said inmate Jonathan McNeill of Fayetteville. "We've learned a lot about electricity and have skills we can use when we get out."

Transportation purchasing agent Robert Ritch came up with the idea. After visiting a Raleigh tool repair shop, he realized many tools could be repaired easily and inexpensively. Reports in a sample survey of DOT shops showed hundreds of electric, pneumatic and hydraulic tools in need of repair. Ritch presented the idea a year ago to the Department of Correction's Keith Hester who worked with other prison managers and Piedmont Community College to put the program into place.

Piedmont provides a six-week occupational extension program training inmates in tool repair. After completing the class, inmates go to work in the repair shop. Catlett oversees the work insuring that its done right and quickly. DOT pays for parts and shipping costs. The inmate labor is free.