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Raleigh's Utilities Department Taps Local Prison for Workers

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RALEIGH — Raleigh's Public Utilities Department, which has struggled to find skilled workers, turned to a local prison to fill its employment roster.

Inmates Reginald Brathwaite and Steve Pearce love working outdoors because for several years they have only seen the inside of a prison.

"I'm just happy to be working," Brathwaite said. "I had a drug charge, but I feel happy now that I only have four months to go."

Brathwaite and Pearce are still inmates at Wake Correctional Center, but for nearly eight hours a day, they work for theCity of Raleighmaintaining water and sewer lines.

Since last August, the Public Utilities Department has taken on six inmates on work release. It is an answer to a job vacancy problem the capital city has never tried before.

"I think it's a good program that the city might need to look at for other departments, other than just us," says Gene Stanley, a utilities maintenance superintendent. "It's hard to find people to do labor work maintenance."

Stanley usually worries about hiring workers who will show up and do the work. He says inmates like Brathwaite and Pearce come every day, show up on time and have good attitudes.

"They do good work for us," Stanley said, "and we haven't had a bit of a problem."

"I feel like a man now," Brathwaite said. "I did five years so far, and I feel like it's a great opportunity for me to experience things on the outside."

"I'm able to pay off my restitution, and help make money for my family," Pearce said.

Both men hope to get a job working for city utilities when they get out of prison. They say they hope their success will pave the way for other inmates to prepare for life on the outside.

Many prison inmates, who are eligible for work release, already have some kind of skilled labor experience.