Offenders work on themselves as they build and repair for others

Caswell County's two DAC facilities offer vocational skills that ease re-entry while providing positive benefits for the public.

Author: Brad Deen

Rehabilitation provides offenders a chance to repair themselves and rebuild their lives, often with new skills. Those notions — rehabilitation, repair and rebuilding — converge in Caswell County.

The N.C. Department of Adult Correction’s two correctional facilities outside Yanceyville, Caswell Correctional Center and Dan River Prison Work Farm, offer opportunities to learn construction and tool repair. The employment-worthy skills can smoothe the offenders’ eventual re-entry into their communities. And as they serve their time, they serve the public.

Wildlife project
Adult Correction Secretary Todd Ishee, center, inspects the handiwork of Dan River Prison Work Farm offenders who build public fishing, boating and hunting structures for the state Wildlife agency. 


Since 2006, Dan River offenders have built hunting, fishing and boating structures for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Everything from floating docks and fishing piers to signs exhibiting the familiar Wildlife diamond are handmade at Dan River. In the case of the larger items, they’re built in sections, trucked to the site and assembled.

David Slade, a conservation technical supervisor for the state Wildlife agency, said offender-built structures are present at all 280 public boat launches statewide, from the Intracoastal Waterway to the mountain lakes.

The cooperative win-win program between Wildlife and DAC is called Wildlife Inmate Services, or WISe. Wildlife provides materials, and DAC contributes labor.

The Dan River workshop usually keep 8-15 offenders employed, Slade said, although in the mid-winter lull they have only four, gluing targets for upcoming hunter safety courses.

As fishing and boating seasons approach, offender crews will be measuring, cutting and joining lumber (treated, of course, for outdoor resistance) into piers, docks, gazebos and sign kiosks. They’ll also build hunting blinds and shooting stands that are accessible to people with mobility issues. All are built to individual site specifications.

The state’s outdoors enthusiasts can also benefit when the WISe-built structures are replaced periodically. Rather than toss them into a landfill, Slade said, Wildlife hauls the old items back to Dan River for refurbishing and public sale through State Surplus.

Caswell tool repair
A Caswell Correctional offender repairs a power tool for a state or local governmental agency.

Refurbishing for reuse is also offered just over a mile away, at Caswell Correctional. A tool repair operation repairs broken tools for state and local government agencies. Everything from power tools to small appliances gets a new life at the Caswell Tool Repair Shop, said supervisor Keith Bunn.

“Many times, tools have been thrown away, when all that was needed is maybe a new cord, brushes or just a loose wire, which are all easy fixes,” Bunn said. “Sometimes it’s just a good and thorough cleaning that’s needed to extend the life of the tool.”

As many as 14 Caswell offenders are assigned to the Tool Repair Shop, recruited mostly from welding and industrial repair courses offered at the facility through Piedmont Community College. They work on all the major brands of electric, battery and air-powered tools, as well microwaves, floor buffers, even guitar amps and keyboards.

“Anything that’s got electric wires running through it, my guys can probably fix it,” Bunn said.

The shop's price to fix an item typically amounts to one-fourth of the replacement cost. If it will exceed half the cost of a new one, the shop asks the customer to give the thumbs-up or -down.

The shop saves its public customers — and the taxpayers — the cost of replacing them, which can be multiplied by the high volume of tools purchased by public agencies statewide.

“The guys know that what they’re doing benefits the public,” Bunn said, “which is part of the incentive of getting to work here.”

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