- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

MONROE, La. (AP) - Inmates at the Ouachita Parish prison are helping upgrade pens for animals at the parish animal shelter.

Shelter director Hack Tull told The News-Star (https://tnsne.ws/1dxH45X) that using inmate volunteers helps to cut the cost of the project and gives the inmates a chance to serve the community.

Because the shelter is saving on labor, the total cost to replace all 75 pens will be only the $17,000 expense for building supplies.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Tull said. “It doesn’t cost the sheriff anything. The parish is out the price of the material, but it’s cheaper in the long run,” he said.

“I think the community needs to know what the inmates are doing and that they’re not just sitting down there watching TV. They are giving something back to the community when they’re able to,” Tull said.

Warden Patrick Johnson said the inmates are assessed for security reasons before they can leave the prison. He said 15 to 20 public agencies use the prison’s inmates for different purposes.

This is the first time the shelter has replaced all of the pens at one time. Tull said inmates replaced some pens about five years ago.

Most of the pens are rusty or have been damaged by the thousands of animals that pass through. In 2013, the shelter took in more than 7,200 animals.

The current low-quality chain-link pens will be replaced.

“We’re using heavy-duty pens, so hopefully we won’t have to do this again,” Tull said.

The project began at the beginning of the year and is funded in part by a bequest to the shelter in the will of a supporter.

The pens are built at the prison by inmates before being installed. Tull said it takes about a week to build a pen and another day to install it.

The pens in the main shelter building are the first to be replaced. Eventually, all outdoor pens also will be replaced.

Tull hopes the project will be completed in a month, though factors such as inmates’ availability could affect the timetable.

Tull said the welder working on the pens could be released, and the project would have to wait for the jailing of another welder.

Johnson said a long wait isn’t likely since many inmates are highly skilled and volunteer for work programs.

“It gives them a reason to get out of bed,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys take a lot of pride in doing a good job.”

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Information from: The News-Star, https://www.thenewsstar.com


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