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Ione Prisoners Giving Back To the Community

By Carol Harper

If the inmates of Mule Creek State Prison´s digital services program wore business shirts and ties instead of their institutional blues, one may think they were employees working in a typical Silicon Valley office building.

Prison Industry Administrator Alan Caron gave inmates at the Ione prison a challenge during a recent ceremony which awarded them their Prison Industry Authority Inmate Employability Program certification. “Put me out of a job,” Caron said.

Offering both a chance to work productively and acquire valuable trade skills, the IEP implemented programs at the prison that evaluate and provides inmate with industry-accredited training and certifications that increase their employability. Among these programs is a digital services enterprise.

Inmates were given a project by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which called for the digitizing of seismic maps of India and Sri Lanka. The task involved the scanning of 43 seismic maps, identifying map features, creating symbology, vectorizing and attributing information into a geodatabase using Environmental Systems Research Institute Geographical Information Systems software.

The DSE was recognized at the 25th International ESRI conference in San Diego and the Xian China Conference in November last year.

“You are now internationally recognized,” Caron said to the inmates. “I´m grateful for these programs and the wonderful support that warden Rosanne Campbell has given to these programs. But I´m most proud of what each of you do and the scope of what you do. You are the ambassadors of this program.”

Other clients of the DSE program include the California Resources Agency, California State Coastal Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the National Wetlands Inventory.

Inmate Robert Williams has worked on the digital mapping for the National Wetlands Inventory, which involves converting 703 National Wetland Inventory maps to a digital format and attribute features as identified on the maps. The PIA also works closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services experts on this intensive project. The data is eventually published on the National Wetlands Inventory Web site.

Inmate Christian Reyes works on plotting seismic activity in India, using data from 1900 to 1993. “What they do is send a map. We plot the images exactly into a digital format,” he said. “It takes a little time, but that´s what we´ve got a lot of here.”

Inmate Donald Reed has worked on a project that required the scanning of 3,228 pages of a client´s original information and converting it entirely to a digital format. Each page from the large project had been scanned and saved as a PDF and is then indexed and bookmarked by chapter and section. “The scanning is what takes the longest,” Reed said. “A project this size takes me about a month to do.” The digital files are then sent back to the client on CDs or DVDs.

“I´m learning a lot,” Reyes said. “And the recognition is nice. It´s not like we´re in the yard or cells, wasting our minds.”

“Just because we´re locked up doesn´t mean we don´t learn,” Reed said. “We still have the ability to learn and we´re learning it here.”

More than 350 PIA inmates participate in the program where they learn skills that can be translated into better paying jobs upon their release. Besides digital services, programs include coffee roasting, laundry services, meat processing, a mill and cabinet shop, and a crew of support workers.

The coffee roasting program is staffed by one staff member and 20 inmates who roast, grind and package in excess of 1.2 million pounds of coffee per year. The prison also develops special blends of select beans for clients which are roasted daily and packaged in five and 15 pound, nitrogen-flashed vacuum bags.

Two staff members and 30 inmate workers process over 4,000 pounds of laundry per day and serve Preston School of Industry and the Northern California Youth Center in Stockton, as well as Mule Creek itself.

The fabric products program consists of three factories that deal with garment manufacturing and silk-screening. It employs nearly 200 inmates and generates about $300,000 per month. Some of the products manufactured include trousers for the CDF Wild Land Firefighters, luminous green vests for Caltrans, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation orange shirts and trousers, boxer shorts and culinary garments, and other miscellaneous sewn products.

“If you see those bright green vests by worn by Caltrans workers, chances are it was made right here,” Campbell said.

Meat processing has six staff members and 68 inmate workers processing more than 160,000 pounds of commercial beef per week. The products offered are bulk hamburger, beef patties, stew meat, all-beef frankfurters, bologna, salami, chorizo, hot links and breakfast link sausage. The plant has a Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point Program that meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements for operations and is inspected by USDA services. One shift of workers process the meat, the other shift is responsible for equipment sanitation.

The mill and cabinet shop´s current project is the construction of a 7-foot-wide-by-6-foot tall, 22-inch-deep red oak trophy case for Amador High School. And a 22-inmate support worker crew processes purchase orders, warehouses the goods, makes deliveries, provides maintenance and supports management staff.

For more information about the Mule Creek´s PIA Inmate Employability Program, contact Alan D. Caron at 274-4911 ext. 7201 or go to the PIA Web site at www.pia.ca.gov.

Reprinted with permission from Amador Ledger Dispatch