James B. Hunt, Jr., Governor
Joe Hamilton, Acting Secretary
Patty McQuillan, Director of Public Information (919) 733-4926

April 1, 1999

Work release prepares Charlotte Correctional Center prisoners for a job

Charlotte - A stack of 1040 income tax forms sits atop the prison library shelf waiting for inmates such as 60-year-old Edward Johnson and 36-year-old Ralph Berry. They are among the 110 work release inmates in Charlotte last year who earned a full salary at a regular job during the day and returned to the prison at night. Their wages are both taxed and garnered.

Inmate Johnson walks each work day to a nearby hotel where he is a chef. Working at the hotel since 1991, he started by washing pots and pans before he was promoted to pasta chef, then breakfast and lunch cook. Employees enthusiastically support Johnson who was both Employee of the Year and Employee of the Month at the hotel.

Inmate Berry works for a heating and air conditioning company and currently is doing duct work at a church construction site. Last summer, Berry transferred to another prison so that he could take 26 weeks of courses in heating, air conditioning and welding offered by the local community college. Both men's jobs are permanent.

"That is one of the better benefits of the work release program," said Charlotte prison superintendent Richard Neely. "Employers are willing to give these guys a chance as long as they show they are willing to work."

Other benefits include the savings to state taxpayers. Inmates pay $70 a week in boarding costs to the prison. Money is also garnered for child support payments, restitution, fines and court costs. The IRS gets its share, too. Whatever is left goes into the inmate's trust fund, helping him get established when he leaves prison. (Some inmates leave with only a $40 gate check in their pocket.)

Last year, a total of $1.2 million was collected at Charlotte Correctional Center compared to $1 million the year before. Across the state last year, more than a thousand work release inmates paid $13.7 million for housing, child support and restitution.

Employees carefully screen the minimum custody inmates. Correctional officers go to their job sites to check on them periodically. If any inmate is not where he is supposed to be, he is removed from his job and disciplined. While the prison superintendent on occasion, has removed inmates from their jobs, no serious problems have resulted from inmates working in the community. Most are nearing the end of their sentence.

The work release program began in 1957 in North Carolina, the first one in the nation.

"If more inmates had full-salaried jobs, paid taxes and paid for their housing like Ed and Ralph do, some prisons could almost be self-sustaining," Neely said. "But the biggest benefit of all is for these fellows to already have a job when they leave prison, so they can continue to hard-working, tax-paying citizens and not flounder on the streets as so many do when released."

NC DOC Homepage
E-mail NC DOC