Sheriff's office saves $100K with inmate painters

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - It's spring cleaning at New Hanover County's Sheriff's Office, and about 30 inmates are painting the entire jail - the equivalent of about 40 houses.

The jail is painted every few years due to wear-and-tear and to cover the pencil sketches made by inmates on the walls.

When the Office put bids out, they ranged anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000. Given budget constraints, staff put their heads together as to how to get the project done for much less. That's when it was suggested to form a team of inmates.

Inmates had to volunteer and no one with any prior disciple issues was considered. The group started earlier this month and estimates a three-month long completion time.

While it saves the Sheriff's Office money, Sheriff Ed McMahon says he didn't expect to see how much it would affect the inmates - for the better.

Instead of sitting in their cells or watching TV, painting has proved to be enough exercise and engagement to raise the moral of the entire crew.

Often, after too long a period of confinement, inmates start acting up and look for ways to stir up their environment. If they're painting, there's hardly any time or energy to plot.

Inmates are also learning a trade.

"If it took up time in here, it can make money out there," said Lucas Strouse.

The Sheriff's Office is hoping that attitude sticks. Sheriff Ed McMahon says that based off of the painting project's success, the county can expect to see many more projects like this in the future.

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