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Williamsport officials say inmate labor agreement works

July 15, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- When the state offered free labor from prison inmates, the town of Williamsport accepted.

For the past two months, inmates have spread mulch in the park, cut grass and weeds, cleaned buildings, picked up trash and more.

Mayor James G. McCleaf II said extra hands have helped the town accomplish more, yet save money.

"They've been essential," said Clerk/Treasurer Donnie Stotelmyer, a retired state correctional officer who helped set up the town's program.

Gary D. Maynard, secretary of the state's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, has said few local governments have taken advantage of his offer of inmate labor since he became secretary more than a year ago.

Some municipalities have used inmates for special projects, but Williamsport is the first to put inmates to work daily because of Maynard's offer, according to department spokesman Mark Vernarelli.

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Washington County has been using state inmate labor for years, before Maynard became secretary in 2007.

Vernarelli said the county has eight crews. Most work on roads, but three other departments - water quality; buildings, grounds and parks; and solid waste - each have one work crew.

Inmate labor is free for Williamsport and Washington County, according to Vernarelli.

However, the county pays for part-time supervisors to watch prisoners and vehicles to transport them, County Administrator Gregory Murray said.

Boonsboro, Clear Spring, Hancock and Sharpsburg have agreements with the county to occasionally use their inmate crews.

Funkstown, Smithsburg and Keedysville do not.

Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said she hasn't seen or heard any official descriptions of the inmate labor program.

"We need to know what they can do and what they can't do," she said.

Hagerstown doesn't have an official agreement with Washington County, but sometimes trades inmate help for something the county needs, said Eric Deike, the manager of the city's public works department.

"We want to drastically increase - triple or more - the number of inmates working (outside prison)," Vernarelli said.

He said inmate labor is a cost savings for local governments and a chance for prisoners to give back to the public.

Stotelmyer said his corrections experience allows him to be a supervisor in Williamsport.

Washington County has hired retired correctional officers part time to supervise its inmate crews, said Ed Plank, the director of the highway department.

When towns use those inmates, they reimburse the county for the supervisors.

For example, in three separate months, Boonsboro paid $540.42 for 37 hours, $490.74 for 35.5 hours and $345.84 for 25 hours, Town Manager Debra Smith said.

The hourly rate ranged from $12.54 to $15.48, she said.

Boonsboro gets inmates every Tuesday and Thursday. Their tasks include maintaining the reservoir, the library and the wastewater treatment facility, Smith said.

"It's a tremendous, tremendous benefit," said Hal Spielman, the mayor of Sharpsburg, which usually gets a work crew on Tuesdays.

Hancock Town Manager David Smith said the inmate crew that comes to his town every Wednesday has a good work ethic. "If we have a problem, they don't come back," he said.

For now, the inmate labor program is limited to state prisoners.

Maj. Van Evans, warden of the Washington County Detention Center, said most inmates there haven't gone to trial yet, so they need constant supervision by law enforcement officers.

For inmates serving sentences, turnover is too high to set up steady crews, he said.

However, some detention center inmates have jobs in the community through a work-release program, Evans said.

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