Inmates getting chances to work

January 25, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Nonviolent offenders often sweep the halls of justice in Washington County.

Inmates from the Washington County Detention Center empty trash, tidy offices, vacuum and more at the Washington County Courthouse as part of a daytime labor program.

Elsewhere, they shovel snow at Hagerstown Regional Airport, pick up roadside litter on the highways and help at Forty West Landfill, said Terri Blair of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

"It saves the county a good bit of money," said Blair, who supervises inmate programs at the Washington County Detention Center. "They're not paying for work."


The day labor program is different than work release, in which inmates hold jobs for private companies.

Inmates in the day labor program are not paid, but earn credits for days served and relish the chance to work, Blair said.

"There's almost always a waiting list," she said. "Anything to get out of a jail cell."

Fifty-two inmates worked outside the detention center in 2003.

At The Herald-Mail's request, Blair asked inmates if they would be interviewed and photographed for this story. Two said they would only if their names were not used. The Herald-Mail declined.

"Trusty" inmates

Each inmate in the program - called a "trusty" because of the extra responsibility he has earned - must be nonviolent and within three months of release, lessening the chance he will flee.

Asked if the detention center has had any "trusty" inmates run off, Blair said, "Knock on wood, we have not."

Elsewhere on the detention center campus, inmates buff floors in the patrol building and maintain cruisers at the garage, under supervision.

Inmates work full days in the community, but must be back by 3 p.m., which is lockdown.

Of the three state prisons at the complex south of Hagerstown, only the Maryland Correctional Training Center allows inmates out into the community to work.

MCTC minimum security inmates must earn "prerelease status" - a reduction in their security level - and usually be within two years of release to be eligible for work details, said Capt. Priscilla Doggett, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Correction.

Maryland Correctional Training Center, or MCTC, has both minimum-security and medium-security inmates, while Roxbury Correctional Institution and Maryland Correctional Institution only have medium-security inmates, Doggett said.

Prison inmates clean up state and county highways in Washington County, usually under the watch of correctional officers.

Washington County government spokesman Norman Bassett said six four-man crews are working on county roads now. For five of those crews, the county pays a retired law enforcement officer to supervise, he said. The state supplies the sixth supervisor.

Hagerstown Regional Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said inmates occasionally come in to help her staff with janitorial work and lawn care.

"For the most part, they are hard workers," she said.

Sometimes, inmates mow lawns for the State Highway Administration or clean County Commuter buses, Doggett said.

State inmates are paid $2.25 per day for their work. Their daily pay might be increased about 10 cents or so over time, she said.

Currently, 45 MCTC inmates work in the community.

W.Va. inmates at work

Far fewer inmates at Eastern Regional Jail near Martinsburg, W.Va., are doing outside labor.

Jail Administrator Ed Rudloff said Thursday that two inmates currently help at the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department and one at the West Virginia State Police barracks - mowing lawns, washing cars and doing general cleaning.

Employees at those stations supervise.

In the past, the state's Division of Highways has used inmates, too. It hasn't asked for any lately.

Only inmates sentenced to serve terms at Eastern Regional Jail can qualify for the labor program. Their offense must have been nonviolent.

For each day an inmate works in the community, he gets one day removed from his sentence. Inmates can work off up to 25 percent of their sentences that way. Many work inside the jail, such as in the kitchen or laundry room - in some cases because they don't qualify to work elsewhere.

Rudloff said there are more requests for help from government agencies than inmates available to do the work. He attributed that to an expanded home confinement program, which has reduced the labor pool at the jail.

Meanwhile, the county's community service program, which puts people convicted of low-level crimes to work instead of jail, is thriving, according to Roy Davis, the director.

People sentenced to community service work at the Boarman Arts Center, the Apollo Civic Theatre, the B&O Roundhouse complex, the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Boys and Girls Club, the county's future judicial center and more, Davis said. New requests continue to come in.

There are 50 people in the program now, he said. In the summer, that might swell to about 150.

Pa. labor program

The Herald-Mail Articles