By MJ Kneiser, WLHR Radio, Lavonia
The Georgia Department of Corrections Whitworth Detention Center in Hartwell is switching from a male incarceration facility to an all female facility and that news could affect some counties and municipalities in Northeast Georgia that depend on Whitworth’s male prison labor to supplement their personnel and budgets.
Local governments and municipalities were recently informed of the inmate change over at Whitworth by the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Prisoners from Whitworth are non-violent parole or probation violators and are used by local governments from Rabun to Oglethorpe counties and their respective municipalities to do jobs they would otherwise have to hire people for.
The prison labor is not free, but is offered at significantly reduced fees, typically just the cost of the prison guard’s salary, a van to transport the prisoners, and additional equipment they might need.
Lavonia budgets about $150,000 a year for prison labor details, which includes about $38,000 to pay the prison guard’s salary plus a van and other equipment.
Lavonia City Manager Gary Fesperman said they are looking at a number of different options on how best to use that money.
“The mayor and I have been working on this for about a week now,” Fesperman said. “We might look to contract part of this out, such as grass cutting, and then hire in a couple extra folks to take up where we need expertise that a contractor might not work. We’re going to have to look at possibly doing a custodial hire to take care of those types of duties.”
One option would be to use female labor from Whitworth, but Fesperman says Lavonia has no plans to do that.
As for the city of Toccoa, it uses one crew from the prison for jobs like picking up litter, janitorial work, and working on rights-of-way, at a cost of about $39,500 a year to the city.
Toccoa city officials say they do plan to use a female crew from Whitworth if available once the switch is made.
Hart County officials are also concerned about the switch.
At Tuesday’s Hart County Commission meeting, several departments that use prison inmate labor were present to ask they be allowed to hire personnel to replace the prison workers. Hart County uses prison workers from Whitworth in their Road, Maintenance and Recreation Departments.
Hart County Commissioner Dan Reyen said Tuesday he saw no problem with using female inmates to fill those positions, but Hart County Administrator Jon Caime suggested there could be problems with that arrangement.