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October 26, 2009 - 7:33pm

Sheriff supports amendment to let inmates toil for nonprofits

The Genesee County Sheriff supports a proposed state constitutional amendment to permit inmates to work for nonprofit agencies.

Sheriff Gary Maha is asking voters to approve this as well come November.

According to the Sheriff's press release today, it was never intended that the state Constitution prevent a Sheriff from assigning inmates to a work crew at a nonprofit agency or organization. The current law prohibits the practice when an inmate is "contracted, given or sold" and dates back to at least 1898. It was probably intended to prohibit the sale of inmate labor to contractors or private parties.

Nowadays, the Sheriff's Office typically assigns inmates to work at cemeteries, libraries, service organizations, parks, playgrounds and other locations operated by nonprofits. The inmates aren't paid and are always supervised.

Current provisions in state law do not prevent inmates from working for the state or other municipality. Therefore, most people thought that inmates who volunteered for work detail could also work for nonprofits. The labor is considered part of their rehabilitation program, not a form of required or compensated labor.

But a few years ago, the state Commission of Correction -- the agency which oversees all correctional facilities in New York -- began questioning the practice of inmate labor for nonprofits and suggested that the state Constitution be clarified in this regard.

So the state Legislature passed a bill to allow county jail inmates to work for charitable organizations. Having passed the Legislature in 2007 and 2009, this issue will be on the November ballot for voter consideration.

Sheriff Maha is asking voters to approve the proposed New York constitutional amendment permitting inmates to work for nonprofits.

DOUGLAS MCCLURG
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approve!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Peter O'Brien
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Who decides what non-profits they work for?
John Roach
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Peter, It would be the Sheriff or Chief Jail Deputy. That is the way it is now when inmates are put on work details. And, not every inmate is allowed to do this. There is a process to screen them for public safety.
Chelsea O'Brien
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I understand and agree with prisoner rehabilitation, but is now the right time to start the process? Thousands of people who are no longer worker, are volunteering for non-profits to fill the void. They gain experience and help businesses that need it. Is it right to replace those people with prisoners withour economy the way it is right now?
Peter O'Brien
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I don't want an elected official or politically ambitious person (i.e. a Sheriff or City Jail official) choosing which organizations receive free labor. Too much potential for them to legally use others labor to enhance their careers.

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