Updated 01/10/2012 05:33 PM
Inmates at new DMV call center to save state millions
Greene Correctional Facility is the site of a new DMV call center that not only has leaders saying it will save the state millions, but it has dozens of inmates pinning their hopes on the program as well. Steve Ference has more.
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GREENE COUNTY, N.Y. -- "I'm originally in here for robbery in the second degree. Unfortunately, I'm in here for doing something I shouldn't have done. I broke the law," said inmate John Howard.
At the Greene Correctional Facility, we met Howard who says he has turned his life around after years in prison.
"Fourteen years, so far," he told us.
But Howard, one of 50 inmates working in the new Department of Motor Vehicles Call Center inside the medium security facility, takes basic questions over the phone. It's a chance to use skills that might otherwise have languished, something he's done at other facilities.
"Not only have I learned how to apply myself, but it's been conducive to my growth and development," Howard said.
Executive Deputy Commissioner J. David Sampson said, "The call center at Greene and at Bedford Hills are expected to handle over a million calls this year, saving the state taxpayer an estimated $3.5 million annually."
State officials announced the grand opening of the call center, saying it's a pretty good deal for taxpayers too, creating efficiencies so you might not have to visit an actual DMV location. All this, after extensive training for these inmates. No personal information is shared over the phone when you call and civilian workers can listen in.
NYS Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer said, "Nobody makes them come to the program. It's not easy. They spend weeks and weeks training. They sit at these consoles and answer questions of the public and answer it with dignity and support and sensitivity."
Inmates here are expected to handle 55,000 calls per month. They get paid 46 cents to $1.14 an hour, a standard wage in prison. The workers also get their own housing unit as they build their resumes in anticipation of the day they're free.
Fischer said, "Everybody deserves a second chance and this is the kind of program that gives people that second chance."
Howard said, "The ability to talk to other people and know you're doing something, it makes it feel like you're giving back to the community."
And for Howard, who has done this work for years now, he hopes this job pays off and will give him the skills he'll need to get a job when he gets out. And that's important because he's getting out very soon.
"I leave tomorrow, so that's a blessing. I'm truly happy about that," Howard said.
For Howard, it's been about the dignity of a job and lessons learned, skills and perspective he can now use to build a better life to support his son he'll finally be able to see.