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Hard labor returned to California prisons this month when the Department of Corrections launched a pilot project to see if physically demanding manual labor will discourage parolees from committing crimes.

The goal is to enhance public safety by slamming shut the revolving prison door.

“Repeat offenders are hereby put on notice,” said California Department of Corrections Director C.A. Terhune. “If you return to prison, you’ll face some very strenuous consequences for your criminal lifestyle.”

The new program, known as Structured Punishment Work Detail (SPWD), targets parole violators who are returned to custody for two or more separate violations. If they are sent to one of three institutions participating in the pilot project, they must be placed in the SPWD program.

State prisons at Folsom (Sacramento County), Calipatria (Imperial County), and Pleasant Valley (Fresno County) were selected for the pilot projects. Inmates assigned to the programs will participate in intense manual labor. Only hand tools will be allowed.

Minimum custody Folsom inmates, for example, will create a bike trail around the perimeter of the prison and connect it to the Natomas bike trail. In preparation, they are hard at work replacing the fence along the road leading to the prison.

Inside work crews will clean up the prison’s old sewer site, breaking up the granite and concrete, leveling the area by hand, and moving out the concrete footing slabs. The cleared area will be used for a vocational landscaping program.

Crews at the other two prisons will be assigned to similar manual labor projects including dust control, irrigation, fencing, rock removal, and brick-making.

“Whenever possible, the inmates’ labor will benefit the community,” said Terhune.

SPWD inmates earn no pay and their privileges are limited. For example, they get less yard time, can spend less in the canteen, get no family visits or packages from home, and can use the telephone only for emergencies. If they parole and return again, they automatically are reassigned to the SPWD program.

Restrictions are even greater for inmates who refuse to work. They get no personal visits and only 10 hours of yard time per week.

Corrections staff will be tracking all inmates who participate in the SPWD program to evaluate whether it is effectively reducing recidivism.