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Inmate crews save governments bucks

August 12, 2007|By KAREN HANNA

Road crews made up of inmates have saved Washington County and local municipalities tens of thousands of dollars on tasks that otherwise might not get done, according to county officials.

County Administrator Greg Murray said the county pays about $11,000 a year to each of several retired correctional officers who are in charge of supervising inmate crews. The personnel costs are the only costs associated with running the crews, he said.

In all, Murray said, the county uses the services of seven crews at a total cost of about $80,000 a year.

"If we did not have the staffing from those crews we would not be able to maintain all the things that have to be maintained," Murray said.

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Boonsboro Town Manager Deb Smith said municipalities work with the county to obtain services from the road crews. In Boonsboro, the crews typically work once or twice a week in the spring and summer, maintaining public grounds and doing other chores.

"They do just about anything that you can think of for us, from picking up garbage, trimming (around) guardrails, basic office work," said Edwin Plank, director of the county highway department.

The inmates also do work for the solid-waste, parks and water-quality departments, Plank said.

From three to five inmates typically work on a road crew.

Plank said he knows of few problems with the inmates, who he said seem happy for a chance to leave their cells.

If they had commercial drivers' licenses - a requirement for employment by the highway department - Plank said he would consider hiring some of the inmates after they finished serving their time.

Without the help of the inmates, Plank said he believes his own employees would fall further behind in their work duties.

"To be honest with you, with the trash that we have, and with the trimming that we have, with having over 850 miles of highways in the county, the workload is just immense," Plank said.

- Karen Hanna

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