FEBRUARY 28, 1996

RALEIGH - A N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) employee's idea will be soldered together with inmate labor to create a new prison industry.

An agreement signed by the Secretaries of Correction and Transportation means inmates at Caswell Correctional Center will soon be repairing handtools for NCDOT.

"Many of these tools just have a short in the cord or a trigger not working," said Robert Ritch, a purchasing agent with NCDOT.

Ritch came up with the tool repair idea. In visiting a Raleigh tool repair shop, he realized many tools could be repaired easily and inexpensively. Reports in a sample survey of NCDOT shops showed hundreds of electric, pnuematic and hydraulic tools in need of repair.

"I realized for a minimum amount of money we could get into this and repair all types of equipment," Ritch said.

Looking for the inexpensive labor that inmates could provide, Ritch approached the Department of Correction. He went to Keith Hester, Division of Prisons Programs chief.

"Bob Ritch came to us with a great idea," Hester said. "He had already found it was a simple repair process that required little money to get started and that companies would sell inexpensive schematic drawings of the tools on microfiche."

Hester recommended the shop be at Caswell because the old prison kitchen can be renovated for use as a classroom and tool repair shop. Then he talked with Peidmont Community College about providing the training program. They were enthusiastic about the idea.

Piedmont will offer a six week occupational extension program training inmates in tool repair. After the first 15 inmates complete the class, they'll work in the repair shop. About 10 will actually repair tools. Others will work in quality control and shipping and receiving.

"The repairs will have to meet high standards," Hester said. "There will be a work supervisor for the shop who is knowledgable in tool repair and quality control measures. He'll check the repaired tools before shipping them out."

NCDOT will pay for parts and any shipping costs. The inmate labor will be free.

"Instead of the inmates going to a work site, the work is coming to the inmates." state Correction Secretary Franklin Freeman said. "Inmates can provide a service with the potential of saving thousands and thousands of dollars."

"I commend Robert Ritch for coming up with this idea and I thank our Secretaries of Correction and Transportation for following through to make it happen," said Gov. Jim Hunt. "This is the kind of innovation I encourage in state government. I'm especially pleased that we have found a new way to save money and put more inmates to work."

The shop is expected to open this summer.