This post is regarding the FUSD Inmate Work Program.
My initial thoughts when I found out prisoners were at my daughter's school:
When I went to register Jenelle for high school, there were three men in orange jump suits on the grounds. One was walking into the school, and two were doing outside work. I asked her why they were there (as if she'd know? ha) and she said she knew that they worked there but didn't know why. I came home, freaked out for a moment, and then calmly asked in a local mom's group to find out if anyone knew more information than I did.
What I found out made me calm down and take a step back. These inmates are humans and they deserve respect. They aren't killers or rapists.
Why Are INMATES Working at My Daughter's School?!
You might've read that question and thought “What the hell?”. Inmates means prison and prison means they did really, really bad things, right? Or, maybe it doesn't.
Yes, inmates work at my daughter's school. Actually they work at all of the schools in our district. Yay, budget cuts!
Most of us parents are okay with that. There are a few (of course very vocal ones) that aren't.
Inmate Work Program
NOTE: Many school districts use this program, not just ours.
The Florence Unified School District (FUSD) uses low-custody, non-violent inmates to do their groundskeeping, maintenance, etc. These inmates are low-security and are in for non-violent non-sexual non-child related crimes.
The AZ Department of Corrections has an IGA (basically an agreement) with the government to contract these inmates for work. FUSD has been using this program since about 2002, with absolutely no known issues. Many other school districts in our state use this program. Why? Let's cut to the chase: it's because it's cheap.
Arizona is constantly hit with budget cuts for education. The teachers in our district have been on a salary freeze for 7 years, and just got their first raise this past year. They couldn't have gotten that without the Inmate Work Program in place.
Inmates are paid $.50 an hour to do labor that others would be paid about $10-$12 an hour for. It gets to be 290 degrees in the summer (okay so it feels that hot). Do you think we could get that type of labor for minimum wage? Hell no.
The DOC does checks consistently to make sure the program is running smoothly and the inmates are where they're supposed to be. Each inmate crew is supervised by an FUSD employee. These employees are hired and approved through the DOC with FBI background checks, 10+ years of experience and in good standing with the DOC.
How are inmates chosen for this program?
Inmates are chosen from a pool of low-level offenders. These offenders earn points based on behavior and other things, basically showing that they are ready willing and able to enter the workforce and “real” world again. Once inmates get to a certain points threshold, they're put into a pool. The inmates drawn from the pool are the ones chosen to work on the grounds.
These inmates are the same ones that work on the side of the highway cleaning up trash, but they have more supervision and stricter guidelines because they're working at the school.
“My kid talked to an inmate at school.”
This is a rumor swirling around the Facebook groups and I'm gonna call it right now: bullshit. Your middle schooler did not talk to an inmate, and if they did, they need to be taught about stranger danger and you need to take some responsibility and blame for not reporting the issue right away if it really did happen.
Let's just fire them all!
Some parents are freaking out saying they don't want inmates at the schools. What's the solution? Let's get rid of them all. Great idea! Except then the weeds will be overgrown, the soccer fields won't be usable (the inmates repaired the soccer goals at San Tan this past summer and are in charge of upkeep), the schools will never get painted (inmates painted the interior of some of the schools over the summer break), and many other things that most of us don't care to do… they won't get done.
Then we will hear these same parents complaining that nothing is being taken care of.
Let's do the math.
Inmates are paid $.50 an hour. I'm not great at mathing but I'm venturing to guess this program saves FSDU tens of thousands of dollars each year.
This program is a necessity, not a luxury.
You want to cut this program? That means we have to pay $30,000 or more for a year of this labor rather than a couple hundred dollars. What do you think they're going to have to cut first? We already don't have an Art program at our school, and our music program is severely underfunded. What's next, cut P.E.?
Let's get rid of a few teachers instead so we can have 40 kids in a classroom rather than 30. That's a great idea.
Problems With Inmates at the Schools
I'm not saying this program is perfect. There are two issues I'd like to address:
Inmates are not allowed to be in “sight or sound” of students.
The regulation says that students aren't to see/hear inmates. There is an issue here because some students have seen inmates. They're not supposed to be working while school is in session, so I think there's a breakdown somewhere along the line here and it does need to be addressed.
Parents say they aren't notified of this program.
Technically, parents can do some research (like I did), and find out about the program. It is on the main page of the FUSD website. If your child attends an FUSD school, you've had to visit the website for registration information as well as Parent VUE, etc. Don't tell me you haven't seen the website. Open your eyes and you'll see IN PLAIN SIGHT that they tell us about the Inmate Work Program.
It's not safe (for the inmates, especially) for us to know when/where they're on the school grounds. This little witch hunt has already been pretty bad. Imagine what would happen if parents were told when/where the inmates were. I can only imagine how dangerous that would be. While we are entitled to know about the program, it's never been hidden from us so if you didn't know about it, blame yourself.
So, what's the solution?
My personal suggestion as far as a solution goes is to keep the program exactly the way it is, but make the link to info on the district more prominent (maybe in the menu bar up top as well), and make sure inmates are not seen by children. It's simple. The program is a necessity for our schools. As a parent to three children in the district, I am not okay with getting rid of this program and having even more cuts to our schools!
If you are not happy with the way things are going at your school, switch schools or homeschool. Stop trying to ruin it for the rest of us. FUSD is an amazing school district and I support them in this.
There's a group on Facebook for parents
that want change within the district. This group is a wonderful idea! However, it's being used as a witch hunt right now and I want that to change. If you want change – if you want to help the district, and your children – join the group and be a positive voice in the crowd.
UPDATE: I was wrong. This group is ONLY for those who want to participate in the witch hunt. Opposing views (aka supportive ones) are NOT welcome.