Local offenders help fix up schools while saving taxpayers money at the same time


ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. - Some communities in Northeast Tennessee are getting much needed upgrades this summer from an unlikely source.

Offenders with the Tennessee Department of Correction are packing the hallways of empty schools in Elizabethton this week, helping renovate the facility.

"The teachers come back after summer and are always amazed at how much got done," John Wright, the principal at Westside Elementary School, says.

The community work crews are made up of offenders from the Northeast Tennessee Correction Complex in Roan Mountain, and they help finish the work the school's maintenance staff just can't get to during the year.

"The things that they do at our schools would not get done without them," Wright says.

The non-violent offenders are doing everything from painting, to plumbing, to floor trimming and tiling.

"They've been able to replace the carpet with tile in every single room," he says.

Tennessee Department of Correction officials say the goal is to provide students with the best possible resources.

"Not only are we providing a much better, much cleaner environment for the children," T.D.O.C. public information officer Robert Reburn says."But we're saving the taxpayers money too."

The offender labor is free and the jobs they are doing are often expensive.

"We've been quoted in some areas tens of thousands of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars in parts of the community," Reburn says. "In other areas, around one million to two million in savings."

Reburn would go on to say the program is a win-win for everyone. The communities are getting a facelift, while the offenders are gaining valuable skills that help them find employment after their release.

"We've had instances where offenders did get jobs specifically because of their work on these crews," he says.

Schools aren't the only buildings the offenders work in. The T.D.O.C. sends crews to all types of facilities throughout Northeast Tennessee to help with whatever work needs to be done.

None of the offenders wanted to go on camera. However, they tell News 5 they're proud to be giving back to the community.