The Corner

Chain Gangs We Can Believe In

With all the rhetoric flying in Wisconsin about how limiting public union power would destroy services in the state, a new twist has surfaced. Now that government union contracts are, for the most part, a thing of the past, prisoners will be freed up to perform tasks previously contractually reserved for public workers.

For instance, in Racine County, inmates will save taxpayers money by performing more common maintenance projects:

In the near future Racine County Jail inmates could be used for more than just mowing medians because of changes to collective bargaining.

For the past two years jail inmates have mowed medians on state highways in the county. But union officials said it violated collective bargaining agreements and the county has been limited on what work inmates perform.

Now with Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining changes going into effect today, County Executive Jim Ladwig said inmates will be able to perform more tasks such as landscaping, painting, and shoveling sidewalks in the winter.

“We have a win-win when we use the inmates,” Ladwig said. “It gives them a sense of value they are helping the community.” At the same time, he said it will help the county maintain property that has been neglected.

No inmates would be required to help with county work, but those who do could receive reduced sentences, he said. Because of past union grievances the county was not able to offer reduced sentences. It was considered “compensation,” Ladwig said. But he plans to reinstate it.

No word on whether Walker’s changes will provide more leniency for prisoners who can eat 50 eggs.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

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