If the impact of prison labor in Jackson County's parks is hard to see, it means, quite simply, it's getting done.
"They pick up trash, they do the mowing," parks department director Jim Guerriero explains."
An eight-man crew from the Blackman Township prison complex functions essentially as maintanence staff for the county parks system.
They are valuable, Guerriero says, and a value too. The county pays 15 dollars a day per prisoner, plus administrative fees to the state.
"We collect $1.1 million in those fees," Department of Corrections spokesperson Russ Marlan says, "but it costs us $10 million a year to run the program."
That fund imbalance is why the work program is getting the ax. Corrections is looking to trim the fat especially, because of a court rule which will keep the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility open through fall. That's an estimated extra cost of about $10 million.
"The program was never designed to be a moneymaker," Marlan says, but rather as a service to communities who tolerate having a prison in their backyards.
Locally, the DOC reports, Grass Lake township, Napoleon Township, Concord Township, Hillsdale, the Jackson County Road Commission, Ionia, and Carson city use work crews, in addition to the Jackson County Parks Department.
In our conversations with several of those communities' leaders, many, like Jackson's parks department, are asking why their fees aren't enough and if it's really best to have prisoners do nothing all day.
Mostly, though, they are asking what to do next.
"We can't afford in the budget to hire that many people," Guerriero says. "The parks are going to suffer."