Enhancing maintenance for environmental beautification

Deodat Budhu, P.E.
Manager, Roads & Drainage Division
Orange County Public Works Department
Orlando, Florida

Unincorporated Orange County, Florida, with a population of over 800,000 people and an area of 1,000 square miles, typically receives more than 15,000 complaints annually ranging from litter pickup, right-of-way mowing, seeding and sodding of areas, potholes, and tree trimming, among others. Due to the number of complaints, manpower resources are stretched thinly, thereby affecting the timeliness of our response to cover all of the land area.

In 1995, the Orange County Roads & Drainage Division co-sponsored an Inmate Road Crew Program with the Orange County Corrections Division, as a means of supplementing work done by the County crews. This program was designed to allocate ten crews of five inmates each to address the public works and community projects on a daily basis, and to allow the inmates an opportunity to learn skills such as lawn maintenance. Equipment, vehicles, and drivers are provided by the Roads & Drainage Division, whereas the Corrections Division provides the labor and supervisors. At the inception of the program, the Roads & Drainage Division was supplying vehicles, drivers, and equipment, but in 1999 the Corrections Division began providing drivers for this program.

As the County continues to grow, the impact due to increased population demands that the budgeted funds be stretched. Orange County uses inmate labor on ten road crews that perform a variety of work, which includes edging, mowing, trimming, weeding, and canal bank reshaping. During past emergency situations such as fires, inmates have been pulled from their routine duty assignments to assist the firefighters by pulling hoses and relieving them when possible. Emergency safety training was provided prior to this reassignment of duty.

An inmate crew cleans a drainage system in Orange County (by Florida law, the faces of the inmages cannot be shown). 

Presently, inmate crews provide labor for saving community tax dollars and the beautification of our surroundings. This labor is drawn from qualifying, nonviolent, incarcerated individuals who receive "gain time" to participate. Gain time is a reward for inmates. At Orange County, one day is taken off an inmate's sentence time for every five days served. However, this time gained may be revoked for inappropriate behavior at any time.

Productivity of the inmate crew is measured through daily record crew performance sheets. The Corrections Officer logs the crew's weekly activities such as beginning and ending mileage, work times, work locations, man-hours, and activities performed. This information is submitted to administration where the weekly activities are inputted onto a performance worksheet and forwarded to our attention. This data is entered into our Access Database for ease of tracking and compiling statistics.

Initial startup costs for one inmate crew were $34,000. This cost includes the furnishing of a van, trailer, required tools, and miscellaneous equipment. Assuming there is a ten-year life span for the van and five-year life span for the trailer, a majority of this amount can be viewed as a five-year investment. Since the inception of the program, the benefit-to-cost ratio of this program is on average more than twice, thereby beneficial to the community.

In general, below are a few examples of how Orange County citizens benefit by the utilization of inmate labor:

  • Enhancing the beautification of Orange County by assisting with mowing, edging, trimming, and weeding of our right-of-ways.
  • Cleaning and reshaping outfall and roadside ditches, as well as seeding and sodding.
  • Assisting citizens involved in "Community Cleanup Day" in conjunction with the "ReNew" program (Residents and Neighborhoods Empowered to Win).
  • Providing painting and landscaping services to the Orange County Government's "Seniors First Program."
  • Providing maintenance, landscaping, and cleaning tasks at no cost to nonprofit organizations helping the disabled.
  • Providing free labor to various cities within the County that lack the resources to hire additional employees.
  • Providing labor to various nonprofit organizations in such projects as Christmas Child Project, Florida Citrus Sports Parade, Earth Day, Well's Build Museum of African American History, and the USA Volleyball Regional Tournament.

Deodat Budhu can be reached at (407) 836-7871 or at deodatbudhu@ocfl.com.