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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 04/27/2010

Inmates inspire innovation

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

Who says crime doesn't pay?

It does when the government figures out ways to put inmates to work in new, innovative ways.

In Fairfax County, inmates are doing more than hammering out road signs and license plates. For the last two years, they've also been working to trim back overgrown highway medians and shore up deteriorating roads -- projects that fall by the wayside as VDOT runs short on funds. Offenders (nonviolent, of course) are doing great work in Fairfax, which now grants the jail about 50 percent of its landscaping contracts.

That story reminded me of other creative methods being used around Virginia to turn inmates and jails into revenue raisers.

A handful of cities in southeastern Virginia charge their inmates $1 each day. The Chesapeake Correctional Center was projected to collect $162,291 last year.

The Virginia Beach sheriff is selling advertising space on his office's closed-circuit television system.

Gov. McDonnell has offered an idea as well. When he trumpeted his order to reopen 19 highway rest stops this spring, he talked about staffing them with nonviolent offenders. But even though contracts to run the rest stops expire July 1, VDOT hadn't made any definitive steps in that direction as of last month.

Considering we're paying $10.5 million to reopen and operate the rest stops through the next year, it might be a good idea to put inmates to work while allowing them to chip away at their sentence time.

Businesses have to get creative when times are tough. Government should as well.

Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Paige Winfield Cunningham  | April 27, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network, Virginia  
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