Monday, September 28, 2009

City Announces "Blight Reduction Program" / Expansion of Inmate Labor Program?

In a press release today, Mayor Dwight C. Jones' Office announced their new Urban Blight Reduction Program. The program proposes private property be maintained by the Richmond's Department of Public Works. The negligent property owners will be assessed a fee, a lien on their property, and one could easily imagine late fees, interest, and other penalties to the point where they can no longer afford the property and lose it to the City.

The City's Inmate Labor Program [budgeted by a part of the city's Community Development Block Grant (CDGB)] where inmates are paid $10 a day for 8 hours of labor for clearing weeds will be incorporated into the Dept. of Public Works' program.

And Richmond City Employees are so stupid, they haven't organized a union to represent their interests to their employer, as they are entitled to under Virginia State Code, Section 40.1-57.3. They aren't making a fuss now that their jobs are being outsourced to inmates who work for $10 a day. Slavery by another name is just an inexcusable today as it was 200 years ago. Where do you draw the line? I'm not telling you, I'm asking you?

The complete press release is reprinted below:


For Immediate Release Contact: Tammy Hawley (804) 646-3110

September 28, 2009

City Implements Urban Blight Reduction Program
Immediate benefits of organizational restructuring realized

Richmond, VA – As part of the recent reorganization of several city of Richmond departments, the city has implemented a new program aimed at reducing urban blight. The new program, being orchestrated by the Department of Public Works (DPW) will address the maintenance needs of vacant properties in four city precincts. To date, more than 250 privately owned properties, which previously came under the purview of the Department of Community Development (DCD), will now be mowed and maintained by DPW.

“I believe this new program follows Mayor Dwight Jones’ dedication to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars and implementing operational efficiencies,” said city Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall. “The Mayor takes great pride in the city, its beauty and rich history. As such, all neighborhoods will receive the same level of service to maintain the aesthetics and integrity of our community, as we work toward making Richmond a tier one city.”

This phase of the program, which began on September 23, 2009, includes mowing and removal of overgrown vegetation and refuse from all four precincts. Three of the precincts (108 properties in total) will be completed by September 30, 2009. The remaining 132 properties in Precinct 1 will be completed no later than October 31, 2009.

Subsequent phases of the program include, but are not limited to:
• Coordinating efforts with other city departments to identify and address other areas in need of maintenance.
• Implementing a system for routine maintenance of lots in need of maintenance
• Working with the City Attorney's Office to increase pressure on those property owners with significant amounts due to the city for work performed on their properties to recover the amount due.

The city's division of code enforcement will continue to inspect and identify potential code violations. Once it has been determined that a property has reached the level of non-compliance and the property owner has failed to address the deficiency, DPW will manage the maintenance of such properties. DPW plans also include the use of local inmate labor to bring cited properties back into compliance. Also liens will be placed on each property in an effort to ensure that the city will be compensated by the owners for the work performed.

An advisory group, consisting of the City Attorney’s Office, DPW, and code enforcement, will determine the best method of returning these vacant properties to productive use, as well as developing a system of recouping any costs incurred by the city as a result of code violations.


  1. Maybe I'm missing something, but how does making inmates clear weeds equal to slavery? In my opinion, inmates should do that and more (like pick up litter) and NOT get paid money. Perhaps their hours could qualify them for early release instead? I digress. Use of inmates to do the lowest levels of work could free up the City's staff to work on projects that really need attention.

  2. The use of inmate labor is equal to slavery because it is the use of free/cheap labor. Similar to slaves, these inmate workers are literally prisoners. Many people in jail don't belong there. Many are African American. Though legal and the result of bad laws, they are unjustly incarcerated, non-violent drug offenders for example.

    The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world and it would be cheaper and more productive to provide jobs, education, and housing to the poor rather than wasting money on the industrial prison system.

    Chip, you are not alone. Many people see nothing wrong with the use of inmates to do public work. My opposition to it is based on using an inmate rather than creating a job for a law abiding citizen which pays a living wage with benefits. What is to limit the use of inmate labor? Why not turn over all maintenance of city parks to inmate work crews? It is slavery because it uncompensated labor competing with free labor performed by our neighbors.

    I am opposed to the use of inmate labor because my role model labor union, the Knights of Labor, were opposed to it. It was their policy, and it is my policy. The use of inmate labor grew up in this country after slavery had been abolished and it has a long history of abuse and successes by unions in prohibiting its use. Workers ought to be paid a fair wage their labor and not forced to compete with cheap wages or slave labor to earn a living.

    Also do you remember back 6 months ago when one of the inmates on work detail was smuggling drugs back into the jail?

    You are free to disagree, naturally.

  3. Thanks for the clarification, Silver. I appreciate your point of view and ideals. I certainly agree that the criminal "justice" system/prison industry is pretty gross and that reallocating funds from that into new jobs programs would be a good thing (along with releasing non-violent drug offenders from incarseration). But I still think that prisoners should have to do something to serve some sort of greater good.