One of the projects violated the state's $2,500 financial cap on inmate projects.
Inmates at the Sterling Correctional Facility worked for employees doing jobs at a fraction of what a private contractor would charge.
The inmate projects included building a Corian counter top, building a sidewalk, delivering firewood and most recently installing a septic system, according to prison records reviewed by 9Wants to Know.
That most recent job cost $4,782, well in excess of the Department of Corrections' policy cap.
Sterling Correctional Center Warden Kevin Milyard stopped the practice after 9Wants to Know looked into the program and a local contractor complained.
"I saw prisoners out excavating. It was the actual inmates with a guard watching over them," said Steve Frank, who called the prison to complain.
Frank owns an excavation business near Fleming, about 20 miles from the prison. He admits he wishes he was hired to do the job instead of the inmates.
"The economy is down," he said. "I'm just upset they are out there doing the jobs that private contractors should be doing."
Frank estimates he lost $900 in profit by not being hired to do what he estimates was a $6,000 job. Inmates did it for about $4,800.
Inmate wages are 15 cents an hour.
Four inmates spent four days working on the project for a secretary who works at the prison, according to prison records.
She paid $9.60 for inmate labor.
Milyard said the prison should not have approved the project because it cost too much.
The inmates, who are within about three years or less of their release date, work as part of a job training program to give them real life experiences.
The program allows prison employees, contract workers, volunteers at the prison and state elected and appointed officials to hire inmates.
It is not open to the general public, said Milyard. He defends the program and says he used it twice since 2008.
Milyard's prison is the only one where employees hired inmates to do work on prison employees' properties, according to the Department of Corrections.
"When [inmates] leave the prison, they actually have real work skills. When they apply for a job with a construction company, they have more than just a certificate that they read a book and took a test. They have been out in the field. They have gotten dirty," Milyard said.
Many times, prison inmates work on projects for the state, such as clearing dangerous brush from the South Platte River near Sterling.
Department of Corrections regulations allow and encourage prison employees to hire inmates for jobs that cost less than $2,500.
Employees must pay for materials, a 20 percent fee on the price of materials which goes to the prison, taxes and inmate wages.
Milyard decided to stop allowing inmates to do private work outside the prison. He will continue letting them work on state projects that save taxpayers money.
Milyard used to allow nonprofit groups to hire inmates to work under the same job training program, but that project was put on hold after contractors complained when the economy suffered in 2008.
He hopes inmates can resume working for nonprofit groups if the economy improves.
"It's important to understand that 95 to 98 percent of offenders incarcerated are going to be released. They are going to be your neighbors, your kids' neighbors, your mom and dad's neighbors. If we can do something to benefit them so they get out and become a productive member of society, we're all winners," Milyard said.
If you have a question or comment about this story, or a tip for 9Wants to Know Investigator Jace Larson e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-871-1432.
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