JUNE 27, 1995

ASHEBORO - A dozen inmates are working at the North Carolina Zoological Park for two weeks to save a vital dam that is choked with weeds and grass.

The inmates who are from Montgomery Correctional Center and are part of the new Community Work Program that started in January. The inmates will work from June 26 through July 7, earning $1 a day for their hard labor at the zoo. Government agencies save hundreds and thousands of dollars by employing inmates to do jobs that they may not have the staff or funds to tackle.

"The choking undergrowth that inmates are clearing here during the next two weeks, is not only saving the dam from destruction, but is saving taxpayers about $5,000," Correction Secretary Franklin Freeman said. "The zoo location is one of hundreds projects inmates are assigned to work around the state each month. This is a win-win situation for communities as we expand the program across the state and put more inmates to work."

The dam and a large lake are near the African exhibit where zoo officials said the undergrowth needed to be cleared quickly or they would lose the dam. The one-acre site will be well away from the main zoo exhibits and the minimum custody inmates will be under the supervision of a correctional officer.

During the first five months of 1995, community work program inmates worked more than 201,000 hours on 554 projects in 50 communities across the state. Some of the projects included clearing tire dumps, painting public buildings, cleaning cemeteries and shoveling dirt at a restoration area. Mainly, inmates have cut brush and picked up trash.

Under the Community Work Program, crews of up to 14 minimum custody inmates are working out of 13 North Carolina prisons. Inmates wear safety vests with INMATE on the back in large block letters. Large highway signs are posted near work zones.

"We want the public to know where inmates are working, providing valuable community service work in undesirable jobs," Freeman said. "We want to put every able-bodied inmate to work."