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Commissioner questions use of inmates over contractors

LAWRENCEVILLE — With three-quarters of million dollars worth of contracts up for consideration, county officials questioned how much of the government’s landscaping and housekeeping work should be performed by prison inmates.

Commissioners approved a $172,674 contract for landscaping services at 40 government buildings and 10 police radio towers, but tabled a decision on a nearly $600,000 custodial contract related to 27 facilities in light of the question Wednesday.

“I understand there is more work than the (limited number) of prison labor can do,” Commissioner John Heard said. “But if we are using it for the cities, I think we should use it ourselves before we farm it out.”

For decades, the county has used labor from its medium-security prison for cleaning roadsides, mowing outside government buildings and cleaning bathrooms. But after a call to close the prison several years ago was rescinded, officials have struggled to keep up staffing of correctional officers, which is key to the ability to use the labor force, Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said.

Because local city governments and community improvement districts pay for the use of the inmates, the county is under a contractual obligation to provide the workforce there first, with the county’s needs met last, Nash said.

With a short deadline and some services — like irrigation system repairs and fertilizers — unable to be performed by inmates, officials approved the renewal of a contract with North Georgia Landscaping and Construction Group.

Heard and other officials, including the prison warden, plan to meet before considering the custodial contract later this month.