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New Library Desks Made Behind Bars

Inmates at the McDougall-Walker Correctional Institution built two circulation desks for the library; the newest was just installed in the children's section.

The Hagaman children's library just got a little something from a group of prisoners -- a new circulation desk. Convicts at the maximum security McDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield were the designers, architects and carpenters.

And saved the town a good chunk of dough. According to library director Karen Jensen, it would have cost about $100,000 if traditional  contractors did the job. The prisoner-made desk rang in at $14,000, which came from library donations. In 2009, McDougall-Walker "guests" built the library a main circulation desk for $30,000, said Jensen, funded by a grant.

“That was just not something that we could afford,” she said.

She said a library board member suggested going through Correctional Enterprises, a state-run program at McDougall-Walker. The project employs inmates to do carpentry, metal sewing and printing for towns and non-profit organizations to prepare them for a life outside of prison, though some will never be freed, said David Brown, director of Correctional Enterprises.

“This gives them something to do, gets them out of their cell block,” said Brown.

Ten to 15 inmates worked on the desks at Hagaman, he said. “They didn't have any blueprints to follow; they had to actually come up with a design and build it,” said Brown.

The desks were delivered in components and Public Service did the assembly, after having visited McDougall-Walker to learn how to do so, said Brown.

Most of the purchase price went for supplies for the desks, said Brown. Inmates were paid about $1 an hour.

“It may not sound like a whole lot, but inside a prison a dollar an hour is a lot of money,” he said. The dollars go into the inmates' prison accounts to be used at the commissary.

“They get self-gratification,” said Brown. And the library gets an ornate, custom-made new desk.

Not only was the deal a real money-saver, but Jensen said she was pleased with every aspect of the production.

“The work is really high quality and it's custom-built just for us, so it's built for our space and our needs,” she said.

The new children's circulation desk is long and low, and wraps around to create a rectangle when pushed up against the wall. It has plenty of storage space and a swinging gate to keep children from wandering behind it.

“It'll definitely streamline workflow,” said Jensen. “It'll make the process more efficient, more ergonomic.”

Barbara Esposito March 04, 2011 at 06:01 PM
The word Crooks is inappropriate. It is not objective, but the word suggests an opinion. Did the author of the article write the headline? or did the editor?
Sharon Bass March 04, 2011 at 06:04 PM
I wrote the headline, Barbara. I've gotten other complaints and have changed it.
Harry March 06, 2011 at 06:39 PM
How did Ralph find out about this ,does he have any relatives incarcerated?
Chris Conley March 07, 2011 at 09:50 AM
It is nice that the library was able to save money and the inmates are learning and contributing to society. I must say though it is a shame the library could not afford it otherwise. I'd imagine libraries everywhere are in similar situations. Its a nice way to save money but at this point I'd rather have a local carpenter or contractor trying to find work get the job. But alas, the kids got their new desk so I guess that's the ultimate success. Good article patch
richele jansen April 10, 2011 at 05:04 PM
This was a win/win story and I was pleased that Patch covered it. Giving people meaningful tasks while in prison for whatever brought them there is a positive connection to remind people that good things are possible from everyone. Giving inmates a sense of community and pride of workmanship can do so much for their psyche. Citizens/taxpayers and children will benefit from the lovely desk and the meaning behind it for a very long time.

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