Inmates help government, nonprofit projects

When the Johnson County Public Library needed to tear out old carpet, move shelves and transport stacks of books from one area of the library to the other, employees weren’t sure how they were going to get it done.

Heavy lifting would be just one portion of the several days of labor it would take to rearrange and renovate the Franklin branch. And when officials looked into hiring a moving company to help with the project, the cost was thousands of dollars.

Then they heard about a program that would take care of the manual labor while eliminating the cost: convicted offenders nearing the end of their sentence.

The Edinburgh Correctional Facility sent six offenders to work about 70 hours during a three-week span, moving book shelves, tearing up carpet and transferring books to different parts of the library.

“Using the offenders for this project instead of hiring help, it saved taxpayers about $7,000,” library manager Kip Logan said. “It’s great to see. The way I look at it, everyone needs a second chance. And you can see that they’re trying.”

At the facility, more than 200 offenders nearing the end of their jail sentence work on crews that are available to help with projects that have a benefit to the community.

The minimum-security jail houses nonviolent and non-sexual criminal offenders with sentences no longer than five years. The jail has about 40 crews, usually made up of five or six offenders each, who spend time on jobs similar to the project at the library.

The offenders are supervised and can be assigned to county, city or nonprofit organization projects, said Bryan Dobbs, an administrative assistant at the Edinburgh Correctional Facility who oversees the offenders. Dobbs and his crews have worked on home restoration projects and cleaning up after natural disasters. Many of the inmates have trade skills they are learning or already have, such as experience as a plumber or electrician, Dobbs said.

Monday through Friday, many offenders who are eligible to work do landscaping and yard care jobs, such as mowing the grass at Camp Atterbury.

“When they have a chance to help on a project, it uplifts their spirits and has a lasting positive impact on them,” Dobbs said. “And it’s a really progressive way to save taxpayer money.”

The offenders working on the library project were joined by a group of active Reserve soldiers from the Army’s 417 Quartermaster Company, associate library director Anne Alexander said.

The soldiers and the offenders worked well together, Alexander said.

“Anytime there’s an opportunity, I think the offenders will probably be our first choice,” Alexander said. “This was such a positive experience for both sides. They were a hardworking bunch.”

Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2719.