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County may re-think closing prison
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Effingham County commissioners have toyed with the idea of closing the Effingham Prison. But they may be having second thoughts after Warden Ronald Spears’ presentation Tuesday afternoon.

Concerned about how much the prison was costing them, commissioners asked staff months ago to perform a cost analysis. Spears showed commissioners what the prison does on a daily basis during his presentation.

“This has been eye-opening for me,” Commissioner Verna Phillips said. “I didn’t know you did all that.”

The prison re-opened in 2001 and houses 250 state inmates and six county inmates. Prisoners are housed in four dorms, with 64 inmates to a dorm. Before the new facility opened, the prison held 64 prisoners total, Spears said.

Prison cooks provide more than 270,000 meals for the inmates and more than 90,000 meals for those incarcerated at the Effingham County Jail. The prison also prepares 3,500 meals each year for the Feed a Kid program and 23,000 meals for the senior citizens center. In all, prison cooks prepared more than 370,000 meals last year, according to Spears.

Anywhere from 150 to 160 inmates are assigned to work each day outside the prison, Spears said. Sixty are assigned to what are called bull gangs, 15 are assigned to work with OMI, another 10 work with the Department of Transportation and six each are assigned to Rincon and Springfield. Other inmates also work in and around county buildings.

Prisoners perform such things as masonry, cabinetmaking, electrical, woodworking and landscaping, among others.

Inmates maintain lawns and take care of the landscaping at 21 different sites and are assigned to all county government buildings, Spears said.

“Pretty much any type of skill you need, we can get,” he said.

Inmate labor has been used on Sand Hill Park, the Senior Citizens Center, Baker Pond pavilion and the Guyton walking trail.

They also deliver commodity packages for Concerted Services and prison staff supervised 28 community service workers. In addition, inmates maintained 175 drainage ditches and picked up 55,210 pounds of trash along 265 miles of road.

“Without the prison, you would have to hire 56 workers,” Spears said.

He also said Effingham’s prison is one of only two that feeds that county’s senior citizens and to contract that out would cost $175,000 a year.

The prison’s budget for fiscal year 2007 was nearly $2.9 million, with the state providing $1.8 million and the county nearly $1.1 million. Spears said the cost savings to the county from inmate labor was more than $2.5 million, without benefits. Factoring in benefits, the savings is $3.3 million a year.

“We don’t want to make a mistake like Screven County made,” Spears said. “Their drainage and litter control got out of hand. County buildings went unmaintained.”

Screven closed its prison in 1980 with 60 inmates and reopened it five years later with 150 inmates.

Of 51 authorized positions for the prison, 21 are inside security and there is one part-timer.