We see inmates working out on the highways and in communities all across Eastern Carolina all the time, sometimes there are guards with them, but sometimes there are not. We wondered just who those inmates are that aren't under prison supervision, and whether they pose a risk to you. So we headed out with one prison work crew to find out.
For Daniel Edwards It's another day on the job, but he isn't your typical worker. You'll find him at Newport Correctional, a minimum security prison serving seven-years for drug trafficking, when he's not at the DOT garage in Craven County. And he does it all without guards looking over his shoulder, just like Timothy Harrell. Harrell is serving three-years for felony breaking and entering. But what you might find shocking is that even convicted murders are allowed to participate in this program where no prison officials are keeping an eye on the workers. In fact, the day we tagged along there were three convicted murderers working.
Lewis Gray is superintendent at Newport Correctional. We asked him who all can participate in the program. He said, "DWI habitual felon, probation violation, you can have inmates that may have a murder sentence or some type of assault, so it can be a variety. No sex offenders."
Gordy Eure is with the Department of Transportation in Craven County. Eure says, "I'm not judging them and I don't ask them why they're here when they get here. We base our opinions on their performance and we go from there."
Gray says safety is a priority. "We try to screen the inmates in order to see if were not going to send guys out that are going to present a problem, so it's a positive for the DOT and for us because the inmates are being productive and doing something to improve themselves and help the community and give back to the community."
And while murderers and others convicted of some serious crimes participate, Eure says the program works well and saves his department when it comes to the budget. "No real big problems. The inmates, they're people like you and I and just like all our employees here, so never had any real problems. Most of these inmates enjoy getting out."
And that's exactly what inmate Anthony Hester told us, explaining why the community shouldn't be nervous to see inmate vests working so close to home. "When you get to this point here your getting close to going home so you would be crazy to mess it up."
Inmate Daniel Edwards says, "Where we at we give respect and we get respect "
Inmate Timothy Harrell says, "We're just excited to get out and do our job, and at the end of the day you're just one day closer to getting home. "
Gray says this work program is about making sure they won't mess up when they are released. "Build upon theirselves so hopefully when they re-enter society they won't re-offend and do things and come back into the system,"
Work program inmates at the DOT make seventy-cents a day and they apply that to their canteen fund. Overall, according to the DOT, the program saves the state and budget hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by using inmates for work.