At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, Terry Mapes of the Newton Correctional Facility informed the supervisors the prison was entering into a partnership with Trinity Towers via Iowa Prison Industries to provide workers for hard-to-fill openings.
“The law requires that we notify you. There is no action you need to take today,” Mapes said. “These will be minimum security prisoners ... and when they are released, they will leave incarceration with job skills that will help them down the road.”
Dan Clark of IPI said the state’s work release program is available only to employers who have demonstrated an inability to fill the jobs through normal advertising and with assistance from Iowa Workforce Development. A second provision of state law requires the prisoners be paid as though they were regular employees.
“They must be paid the wage that Iowa Workforce Development says is the appropriate wage for a welder, or say a forklift driver, as examples,” he said. “So, the inmate is paid the going wage but keeps 20 percent of the pay. The rest goes toward taxes, restitution — if any must be paid — and to cover the cost of their incarceration.”
Clark said IPI already has a couple of similar work-release programs in place at the Newton Correctional Facility. Most are working as welders or machinists, jobs that pay well in the private sector after their incarceration has ended.
“And, if they decide to stay with the job after their incarceration is over, they can do that, too,” he added.
Mapes said training for the welders will be provided through a program offered at the Newton DMACC campus. Trinity also will provide on-the-job training. He stressed the program would not be displacing local workers.
One citizen in attendance, Larry Pauley, disagreed. He said the wage Trinity is willing to pay — $11 to $13 per hour to start — is too low for skilled laborers, such as welders. He said private-sector welders elsewhere, even in Iowa, can make as much as $30 to $35 per hour.
“They aren’t filling those positions because they’re not paying a wage that will attract the employees,” he said.
Board chairman Joe Brock, who earlier had expressed concern himself about displacing local workers, acknowledged that skilled labor positions don’t pay as well anymore in a weakened economy.
In other business, the supervisors:
• Unanimously approved the first reading of a new Veterans Affairs Ordinance, then waived the second and third reading and adopted the measure immediately. They also unanimously approved a new general policy that Veterans Affairs director Chris Chartier said would provide better flexibility for the Veterans Affairs Commission when it considers future general assistance requests.
• Unanimously approved the monthly report of the Jasper County Recorder’s Office.
• Unanimously approved the minutes of the previous meeting.
• Listened to the concerns of Max Rayburn regarding the deteriorating condition of a county-owned roadway Halter Avenue and the need for addressing a tree in the public right-of-way that is dropping limbs and causing damage to mailboxes.
Bob Eschliman can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 423 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.