CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Representatives of the Charleston Work Release Center touted its benefits, both to inmates and employers, to legislators on Tuesday.
"I'm a big believer in work-release," unit manager Pam Baldwin said. "I believe everyone should go through work-release."
Nonviolent offenders with 18 months or less remaining in their prison terms can apply for placement in one of four work-release centers in the state, where they are required to obtain employment in the community.
Baldwin told legislators that most of the inmates coming into the Charleston center have never had a paying job, and receive counseling on basics such as how to dress for a job interview, and how to fill out a job application.
"For many, they just don't know how to act or react in public, and that's something they get here," she said.
Although many inmates lack education and job training, virtually all are able to find jobs in the Charleston area, case manager Bobby Williams said.
"We don't have difficulty with our people finding jobs," he said. "They don't get the better-paying jobs, but they always can get work."
Work-release staff members maintain contacts with Charleston businesses, and as of Tuesday, had 50 inmates working at 16 Charleston businesses, in addition to others employed by the state divisions of Highways and Corrections.
Baldwin said that each year, about three or four inmates will be fired or simply not be capable of performing their jobs, but most stay employed throughout their time at the center, which can run from a few weeks to more than a year.
In addition to providing a transition from prison life, the employment allows inmates to save some money, since they have a $100-a-month limit on personal spending.
"They can't spend every dime they get, which is what they want to do," Baldwin said. "If they earn $100, they want to spend $100."
She added, "They get mad at me while they're here, because I control their money, but they also learn they don't have to have a $150 pair of tennis shoes."
Williams said one work-release inmate who was recently paroled had been able to save $20,000.
"I think a guy who leaves here with a little bit of money is going to be less likely to commit crimes," he said.