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The Things Inmates Flush Down Toilets: Shoes, Pants, Sheets and Lots of Water

May 12, 2015

By Andrew Garber

DOC Communications

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Norm Sheppard, Construction/Maintenance Supervisor

MONROE - Prison inmates use their toilets for lots of things they’re not intended, like drink coolers, washing machines and trash cans.

The latter use creates problems. inmates flush shoes, shirts, socks, underwear, coats, food, fruit, wrappers, catheters, diabetic supplies and even sheets down their toilets. In fact, while a typical single-family household may flush a toilet 10 to 12 times per day, inmates flush theirs up to 60 times a day.

At one unit alone, inside the Monroe Correctional Complex, inmates were wasting millions of gallons of water each year.

Until Norm Sheppard intervened.

Tired of coming in at all hours of the night to unclog the plumbing, Sheppard came up with a simple solution, reduce the water pressure behind the flushes. He also devised a hook to catch items before they can be pushed deep into pipes and cause flooding.

“The small stuff will get by, but the big stuff gets caught,” said Sheppard, the plumbing supervisor at Monroe’s Special Offenders Unit. “So it saves everybody time and money.”

Sheppard is retrofitting the 3.5 gallon commercial toilet flush valves in each cell with l.6 gallon low flow valves. He’s fitted more than 300 toilets at the unit with the new valves so far and the work is paying off big-time.

The new valves are saving more than seven million gallons annually. Sheppard estimates that translates to saving nearly $80,000 each year in combined water and sewer rates.

Those savings will build as he retrofits even more commodes. Other facilities are also installing the new devices and even looking at timers to reduce the rate of flushes.

In addition to water savings, the lower flow valves limit how much contraband inmates can flush.

Sheppard says that shortly after he retrofitted one toilet, an inmate in the cell complained. He told me his toilet wasn’t working properly. When I asked him what was the matter, he said couldn’t flush his sheets like he used to, so something was wrong.

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