On any given day, motorists traveling through Danville can find crews of inmates clad in orange jumpsuits picking up litter, mowing grass or working along the side of the road.
That work by the inmates of the Danville Adult Detention Center saves the city and estimated $2.4 million annually.
That’s how much the city would pay if it were to hire city employees to do the work, said Karen Albert, president of Practical Solutions for Public Safety in Greer, South Carolina.
The figure is from a study that analyzed the feasibility of consolidating operations of the adult detention center and the city jail under the sheriff’s office.
However, Albert told the Danville Register & Bee the number was slightly inflated.
“It is probably on the high side,” she said, adding the $2.4 million figure included salaries and benefits of the employees who would have done the work in the place of the inmates.
The adult detention center is a minimum-security work prison that currently has about 115 inmates and averages about 160 per day. The facility holds convicted men and provides work-training for inmates, who perform such jobs in the city as cutting grass, raking leaves, recycling and picking up litter. They are paid $2 per day.
Inmates were paid $1 a day beginning in the late 1980s, with the amount increased roughly a decade ago due to inflation, said Danville Adult Detention Center Director Frank Mardavich.
“The $1 was the cost of a pack of cigarettes,” he said, adding the money allowed inmates to buy a pack a day.
The $2.4 million in savings comes from work performed by inmates for public works, parks and recreation and other city departments, according to the study.
Public works uses inmate labor regularly for litter collection, loose-leaf collection, collecting yard waste, landscaping, sorting plastics at the city’s recycling center, mowing and weed trimming in areas including bridge abutments and high banks next to Central Boulevard, Piedmont Drive, Riverside Drive and other areas, said Danville Public Works Director Rick Drazenovich.
He said he was not sure how much the department saves with the inmates’ work.
As for parks and recreation, inmates mow grass in neighborhood parks, set up and later clear city events and maintain the Riverwalk Trail.
“They do a variety of jobs that take a group of people to come in and do,” said Danville Parks and Recreation Director Bill Sgrinia. “They do a lot of work for us.”
Sgrinia said he didn’t know how much it would cost to have parks and recreation employees perform the same work, or how much the inmates’ work saves.
“I would say it’s pretty substantial,” he said.
According to figures from Danville Finance Director Michael Adkins, the detention center’s operational costs were about $2.7 million in 2018-19. The city paid the facility’s inmates $48,406 that year.
Danville Adult Detention Center’s inmates are serving sentences for such non-violent offenses as probation violation, drug use or possession, petty larceny, fraud, failure to pay child support and other convictions. It also has a cell block for the female inmates of the Danville City Jail.
Mardavich said he did not feel comfortable commenting on the study’s findings or whether to consolidate operations.
“The City Council has to make the decision,” Mardavich said.
Consolidating Danville’s Adult Detention Center and the Danville City Jail under the sheriff’s office would save the city more than $1.6 million, according to the report.
Most of the savings would come from adult detention center employees — who are currently paid by the city — being brought under the sheriff’s office. The city sheriff’s office is a Constitutional office with salaries mostly covered by the state compensation board.
The city hired Practical Solutions after a long-term financial forecast from the National Resource Network in 2018 projected the city could face a $22 million general-fund gap over five years if the city did not make any fiscal changes.
The report estimated the city could save at least another $1 million per year if it consolidated its operations of the detention center and the jail under the sheriff’s office.
The city oversees the adult detention center and the Danville Sheriff’s Office is in charge of the city jail.
Danville Sheriff Mike Mondul said inmates’ work would likely continue as usual if consolidation were to happen.
“That would certainly be my plan,” Mondul said.
The challenge would be to establish a way to make sure the inmates’ work still would be performed under future sheriffs, he said, adding it possibly could be somehow tied to future budgets or required by some other means.
Both the city and the inmates benefit from that work, he said.
“It gets them out and gets them working,” Mondul said. “That builds a kind of civic-mindedness. Those skills are important to have, other than just sitting in a jail cell.”
The study also pointed out it would not be prudent to consolidate the populations of the jail and detention center.
“Neither facility can accommodate all of the inmates in the system today,” Albert said.
In addition, investments have been made in both of the facilities. If one of the buildings were to be considered for another function, the type of reuse would be a key consideration, she said.
It is uncertain what would happen if the city chose not to consolidate their operations.
“I can’t answer that question,” Albert said. “What would happen in the future, we can’t predict.”
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.