Thursday, April 9, 2009

Citizen Comment Against the Use of Inmate Labor in Richmond, Virginia

In a rare act of public inclusion at a budget work session at Wednesday's meeting, Vice President Ellen Robertson opened the floor for citizen comments and since I was the only "citizen" in the room, she made a direct appeal to me to see if I had anything I would like to add.

Earlier in the meeting, the Finance Committee [Councilpersons Robertson, Bruce Tyler, and Charles Samuels] along with President Kathy Graziano, Councilman Jewell, and Interim Member Betty Squire were given a presentation on the Community Development Block Grant (aka CDBG) budget. CDBG is grant money from the Federal Government to fund lots of worthwhile programs like Emergency Shelter Grants, Housing for Persons with AIDS [HOPWA], housing revitalization and code enforcement.

However, there is an obscure line item, entitled, "Environmental Code Enforcement." This program is operated by the Department of Community Development, the Sheriff's Office, and a private contractor. Inmates at the City Jail are paid $10 for 8 hours of labor to do things like cut grass, trees and remove brush. The program is proposed to be funded at $260,000, an increase of $5000 over last year and it would be the third year of the program's existence.

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