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N.C. Prisoners Get Paid to Work Off Debts

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HILLSBOROUGH — Should prisoners be paid to work while they are doing time? Prisoners in the state's work release program get to keep some of the money they earn, but they are actually the last people to get paid when they take a job.

The money first goes to pay restitution for their crimes, room and board, and child support. The $15 million prisoners made last year not only helps the inmates, but everyone involved.

Ronnie Chrisp is working off part of his debt to society at a textile plant in Hillsborough. In the process, he is earning $21,000 a year.

"What would you rather me do, sit in prison and you pay your tax dollars to take care of me, or me work and pay my own way," Chrisp said.

The work release program allows Chrisp to support his three children, and pay the state-appointed lawyer who represented him. In another area of the plant, Marvin Taylor is working off time for robbing a man and writing bad checks.

"My addiction kicked in, and I was just hungry for money," Taylor said.

His paycheck is being used to pay back every cent he took.

"I'm paying back something that I stole," Taylor said. "It makes me feel good. I know that's just a form of self-righteousness, but it makes me feel good. It makes me more relaxed knowing I'm doing something positive instead of something negative."

Plant manger Archie Alderson says inmates fill a gap created by historically low unemployment rates.

"I've only had a problem with two inmates during the past 11 years," he said. "If they get in trouble, they go back on the road."

He responds to critics who say inmates take jobs away from law-abiding citizens.

"Whoever says that, you send them on over here and I'll give them a job because I'm looking for people every day," Alderson said. "I can't hire people."

Chrisp and Taylor say work release is not only about the money. It is also about taking responsibility for their actions.

"That's what really got me to prison, my inability to accept personal responsibility," Taylor said.

Not every prisoner can participate in the work release program. It is limited to inmates who are serving less than a five year sentence. The type of crime and prisoner's behavior is also taken into account.


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