AUGUSTA – You may not even be aware of them, but they have probably saved you from paying thousands of dollars in taxes, all while putting their lives back on track, one brush stroke at a time.

“With this type of program, their behaviors can positively impact people in the community, and they see that,” said Richard Charest, director of the Central Maine Pre-Release Center in Hallowell. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

The pre-release center, which opened in 1979 on the grounds of the former Stevens School, is often the last stop in the prison system for inmates rejoining society.

Prisoners at the 64-bed facility are within the last 14 months of their sentences and could be eligible for work release within seven months of their release date. They receive about 50 hours of education each week, and many take part in a crime prevention program that allows them to speak about making the right choices, and the consequences of bad choices, at public schools and other forums.

In addition to the work-release prisoners — who work in the private sector outside the facility during the day and return to the center at night — the facility also has prisoners who work on community projects.

These community restitution work crews have provided an average of 26,000 man-hours to public and nonprofit organizations over the past two years, Charest said.

“This is free labor provided by our work crews to our neighbors in the central Maine area,” he said.

About a dozen workers were busy painting Tuesday inside Bread of Life Ministries’ new shelter for homeless families and veterans on Hospital Street.

The pre-release center also has provided countless hours of free labor for Bread of Life Executive Director Dean Lachance. The prisoners will install the floor of the new shelter once the painting is complete.

“That’s saving us thousands,” Lachance said. “Rich (Charest) has this unbelievable staff that’s been coming here and doing amazing things.”

The work crews have done everything from help set up for the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville to refurbish the Augusta Police Department. City officials estimated the latter project alone saved Augusta taxpayers $180,000 over three years, Charest said.

Soon, crews will be in Clinton helping carry boxes of books for the library and then sweeping up streets for the town.

“It’s a busy time of year for us,” Charest said.

But the work is not just about saving money.

The inmates learn skills that will help them get and keep jobs when they are released. For some, those lessons can be as basic as learning to get up early enough to get to the job.

“We’ve had some guys, when they come in, they don’t know how to hold a paint brush,” Charest said. “We started teaching them responsibility. It’s all part of the process of preparing these guys to re-enter the community.”

Getting positive feedback from people in the community, even from the police officers working in departments being renovated, can have a tremendous impact, Charest said.

“I don’t think we can play up enough how much we’ve empowered these guys,” he said. “It gives them a chance to give back to the community. I think everyone intrinsically wants to do that.”

Mark Reynolds, an inmate who has worked in a contracting business in the Bangor area, said the opportunity to work together helps the inmates bond and learn how to get along with others.

“Most of them have a really good attitude and want to help,” Reynolds said. “We try to do the best job we can.”