Parent concerned after she says she saw inmates working at San Tan Valley school

Posted at 6:39 PM, Aug 16, 2016

A San Tan Valley parent says that her daughter, a first-grader at San Tan Heights Elementary, saw inmates working on school property while she was at recess on Aug. 1.

"I passed by the following day, which was a Tuesday, and I physically saw them with my own eyes," said Rebecca Majewski, a parent.

The Florence Unified School District (FUSD) has been partnering with the Arizona Department of Corrections since 2002 to contract inmate labor.

According to district spokesman Richard Franco, inmates were only at San Tan Heights Elementary over the summer, before the start of the school year, to move furniture. He said that policy requires that inmates not be in “sight or sound” of students.

"We investigate these things. We look right into them, and we try to make sure that that's not happening. That's a strict violation of the policy and the code,” Franco said.

Franco said that the parent’s claim is unsubstantiated and that inmates don’t do work on campuses on scheduled school days.

"They [inmates] only come onto a campus where kids would be during intersession or summer," Franco said.

FUSD uses inmate labor out of necessity, Franco said, because it’s inexpensive option to hire workers. Inmates are paid $0.50 an hour, as opposed to having the district pay a worker minimum wage.

Only low-custody and non-violent inmates are used, and they’re always supervised by an officer, Franco said.

Majewski said her problem is not with the program itself, but with what she said her daughter saw.

"To know that my 5-year-old child knows that there were strange men there that she doesn't know within walking distance to a 5-year-old is very, very unsettling,” Majewski said.

According to Franco, other districts also contract inmate labor with the Arizona Department of Corrections. ABC15 requested that information from the Arizona Department of Corrections, but we have not heard back yet.

For more information on FUSD’s partnership with the Arizona Department of Corrections, click here.

For more information on the Arizona Department of Corrections Inmate Labor program, click here.