Students and faculty at the University of Rhode Island may have noticed some improvements to Robert L. Carothers Library this semester, such as the newly reupholstered seating on the first floor or the installation of three new 18-foot bar tables. Students have the inmates of Correctional Industries to thank for much of the behind-the-scenes work.

Recent updates at the library began last summer, but the university began using inmates more than 15 years ago due to the Rhode Island State Use Law, according to Associate Director of State of Correctional Industries Joseph Flaherty.  

The State Use Law requires all political subdivisions, non-profit organizations and other eligible organizations outside the private sector to buy from Correctional Services for merchandise purchases of furniture items, but Flaherty says the law isn’t regularly enforced. Although being “forced” to go though the state Correctional Industry may seem like a poor option for state agencies, there are many positive benefits for the consumer and inmates involved in the buying process.

Government agencies that work with Correctional Industries are able to complete projects without having to go to bid, which Flaherty said helps to save time since contracts do not have to be publicly listed for outside business to bid on.  The prices from Correctional Industries are also much more affordable in comparison to their competitors because the state is able to pay prisoners by the day to assemble and install the furniture.

Despite only being paid by the day, however, Flaherty ensured that the inmates who work in Correctional Industries are also seeing positive benefits.  Inmates who work within Correctional Industries are trained in the industry and are able to earn “good time credit” for a greater reduction to their sentence.  

“We’re trying to help them so for when they get out they have some job skills,” Flaherty said.  

For students concerned with the selection of prisoners chosen to assemble and relocate furniture within the library, many can rest assured that the inmates are carefully selected.  Only inmates with minimum security are allowed to go out into the public for Correctional Industries assignments, but all security clearance levels are allowed to help manufacture the items within the prison.  

In order to be qualified for minimum-security clearance, an inmate must either be at the end of their sentence or be serving time for a nonviolent crime.  In addition, an inmate may not have any disciplinary infractions on their record to be considered.   

Executive Assistant Celeste A. DiCesare of the library administration has worked closely with Correctional Industries and been one of the leading forces in making all of these new updates possible. DiCesare said that she has never had any complaints concerning the inmates.  

“From a personal level, the gentlemen have always been very respectful,” DiCesare said.  “They will do what they’re asked to do.  Both the officers, and definitely the prisoners, they realize that they have to perform at an exceptional level to have that privilege to be part of these work crews.”  

In preparation for future plans, DiCesare said the university is working with Correctional Industries to create even more student learning spaces within the library.  These plans include introducing soft seating to the second floor and updating all of the old wooden chairs and tables on the first and second floor to the newer, soft-rolling chairs seen throughout most of the first floor already.  In total, DiCesare estimates that this will create roughly 125 new seats for students.

On a grander scale, DiCesare said that Correctional Industries is also helping to create a “Maker’s Space” beside the new Active Learning Classroom. This new space will feature cutting-edge technology that students and faculty in any field of study will be able to utilize.  Some of the planned technology to be incorporated into the space will include 3D printing, a mechanical arm and virtual reality goggles for simulation, according to DiCesare.