In an effort to help prisoners prepare to enter the work force the Governor and the Legislature have enacted programs to help train prisoners for life outside of prison, sadly, almost a third of the state’s inmates return to prison within three years of their release. With this in mind Governor McDonnell has made prisoner reentry into society one of his top priorities. The state wants prisoners to learn skills that can make them employable once they are released into society. Of course that makes sense. Well, a new proposal will allow the state to use prison labor to maintain some of the state’s 41 rest stops. You may remember that the Governor made a campaign promise to find a cheaper way to maintain the rest stops. You may also remember that in a budget cutting measure Governor Kaine shut them down a few years ago, believe it or not, each rest stop costs about $500,000 a year to maintain and keep open. Governor McDonnell has said the program to allow Prisoners to work at rest stops would not only save taxpayers money, but, also give a second chance to people who have served time.
The program mandates that all prisoner work would occur outside, such landscaping and fixing roofs. State Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), told the Washington Post, “We want them to serve their time and then get back in society and be gainfully employed,’’ Hanger, who introduced the bill, went on to say, “It not only saves money for the taxpayers, it gives a healthy work outlet for individuals. They can take pride in Virginia.”
There are concerns about safety and security. Would visitors to the rest stops be safe? Might a prisoner try to steal a car and get a quick getaway on I-95? I am not too concerned about it. With proper supervision, and careful selection of the prisoners involved the program, it should work well. The prisoners can get some fulfilling work, and taxpayers get a good deal.