Misuse of inmate labor gets county leader suspended - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Misuse of inmate labor gets county leader suspended

September 21, 2006

Dawson - - Terrell County's Code Enforcement Director is suspended without pay. County leaders say she misused inmate labor - - putting the county at risk of lawsuits, and correction from the state.

Martha Ann Coe is a familiar face in Terrell County. She serves as the Code Enforcement Director there. She's not at work today though, she's been suspended for 10 days.

"It could've been five, but that was not my recommendation," says Commission Chairman Wilbur Gamble.

Gamble says Coe violated county and state rules when she used prison inmates to help re-finish her  bed.

According to state policy, its ok for county officials to use inmate labor. In fact, inmates are now helping to renovate the county's courthouse building but inmates have to agree to the services and officials have to get permission from the county warden. He handles the money inmates would receive for the approved work.

Gamble says Coe skipped those steps.

"The deputy warden came in and the man was working on the bed and he asked the inmate what was going on and through questioning he was told who did it and what reason it was."

This week Coe was told not to show up. People we spoke with say they don't see a problem with using inmates to work.

"I think it's a good idea. That keeps the morale up, gives them something to do instead of them just being incarcerated all day long," says resident Harold Benton.

People also say county officials aren't above the law if they break the rules.

"If she had something to do it, why not put her on suspension and let her serve a suspension...a couple of weeks off. She is on suspension, you think that was the right thing? Should be, instead of firing her," says resident Kenneth Dotson.

Gamble says if it happens again, any county official found in the wrong will pay the price.

"This time it's gonna eliminate the probability of being fired. They're gonna be fired because this is the third warning."

For those benefiting from the secret use of prisoners serving their time. 

Wilbur Gamble met with elected officials this morning to crack down on the county's policy. The Department of Corrections is investigating this case but no action may be taken at this time since the county corrected Coe when they learned of the problem.

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