AUGUST 16, 1996

MARION - With only a few days left before most schools open, teachers and principals aren't the only ones working at break-neck speed to get everything ready in time. So are state inmates. They have been helping to remodel an old, 18,000 square-foot department store building located in downtown Marion. When complete, the building will house an alternative school for students who have dropped out or are in need of special assistance.

Fourteen minimum custody inmates from Marion Correctional Institution are cleaning bathrooms, moving furniture and fixtures, painting, handing sheet rock, blackboards and pictures, installing divider walls and shelving and moving books. They have also repaired holes in the ceiling where plaster fell.

"The inmates are cleaning every corner of this building," said Sarah Buchman, community schools coordinator. "They're on their hands and knees caulking, sweeping and mopping. The inmates also cleaned outside the building and mowed the grass."

"They work eight hour days and they're proud of what they do," said Sgt. Perry Franklin, who supervises the inmates. "They like to personally show me their work. It's amazing to see inmates at work on so many different projects at one time."

Those inmates are part of more than a thousand statewide working in Governor Jim Hunt's Community Work Program. Schools and communities are benefitting from the free inmate labor.

"The Governor's Community Work Program has been very successful, saving taxpayer dollars," said Correction Secretary Franklin Freeman. "It will continue to grow as we find more jobs for more inmates."

In the last legislative session, lawmakers approved adding 700 more inmates to the Community Work Program.