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October 29, 2009

Sheriff Todd Announces Support to Proposed Amendment to NYS Constitution to Permit Inmates to Work for Not-for-Profit Agencies

Reuel A. Todd, Sheriff of Oswego County, supports the proposed amendment to the New York State Constitution that would allow inmates to work for not-for-profit agencies, an assignment that has been prohibited by law for years, and recommends voters give it their approval by voting yes on November 3, 2009.

The New York State Constitution has for many years prohibited a sentenced inmate from working where his or her work is “contracted, given, or sold” to anyone. While this provision does not prevent inmates from working for the State or any municipality, most thought inmates who volunteered to work could be sent to not-for-profit agencies since these activities were considered part of the inmate’s rehabilitation program and not any form of required or compensated labor. However, a few years ago, the State Commission of Correction, which is the State agency that oversees all correctional facilities in New York State, questioned the practice of allowing inmates to work at not-for-profit agencies and suggested that the Constitution be clarified.

The New York State Legislature responded quickly. Two separately elected Legislatures (2007 and 2009) passed a bill that would allow inmates in county jails to work for charitable not-for-profit agencies. Having passed the Legislature twice, the issue will now be on the November ballot for approval by the electorate.

Sheriff Todd supports this constitutional amendment. He said it was never the intent of the Constitution to prevent a Sheriff from assigning inmates who were designated as a “trustee,” based on their good conduct while in custody, to a work crew at a not-for-profit agency or organization. Sheriff Todd said that the law, which goes back to at least 1898, was probably intended to prohibit selling the labor of inmates to contractors or private parties.

In contrast, Sheriffs typically assign inmates to work crews at such areas as cemeteries, libraries, service organizations, parks and playgrounds, operated by not-for-profit organizations. Inmates are not paid for these services, and at all times are under the Sheriff’s supervision. Inmates volunteer for such assignments. “There are considerable advantages in allowing this,” said Sheriff Todd. “Inmates can use their expertise and can learn new skills while also providing real benefits to charitable groups in our communities. More Importantly, the proper use of inmate labor is also a good correctional tool that helps to maintain order and security at the correctional facility, and helps to relieve inmates’ stress by getting them out of the facility and allowing them to work in the community.”

It is Sheriff Todd’s feeling that, “Inmates should be allowed to return to the general public services and in-kind pay for the benefits they receive in jail and it is a benefit to the non-profit agencies, who have many times been victimized by vandalism, to recoup some of their losses.” Sheriff Todd urges you to support this amendment by voting yes in the upcoming election.

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