Inmates help restore Chesapeake Bay

May 22, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Men from all over Maryland, now incarcerated near Hagerstown, are helping revive the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore.

As part of a restoration project, inmates last September and October harvested seeds under the direction of Stephen Ailstock, an environmental scientist with Anne Arundel Community College.

Maryland Correctional Training Center inmates have cared for the seeds at a greenhouse next to Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown.

The seeds have sprouted into 20,000 plants, which on June 1 will be planted at Coaches Island on the Eastern Shore.


Several inmates normally held in Hagerstown on Friday traveled to the Eastern Shore to help with the planting, a prisons spokesman said. They will be held temporarily at the Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit.

"It's pretty cool that we get to take part in helping to restore the Bay ... It's dying and I think it's pretty cool that we get to take part in helping to restore that," inmate Sean McKinley said. McKinley has seen television programs that explain the Bay is a huge dumping ground for waste, and he's glad to do something to help, he said.

The Department of Natural Resources helped Maryland Correctional Enterprises, the prison industry arm of the Division of Correction, develop the restoration program.

On Friday morning, three inmates carefully watered the young plants.

They grew the two dominant species of grasses, which when planted will help protect the Chesapeake Bay shorelines against erosion.

The grasses also will help the health of the bay by absorbing nutrients that will prevent the growth of algae that blocks light from reaching underwater grasses that need to grow for the health of the bay, Ailstock said.

The grasses will provide a habitat for small blue crabs, a variety of small fish and smaller organisms, Ailstock said.

Inmates who work with the grasses are part of Maryland Correctional Enterprises, the prison industry arm of the Maryland Division of Correction.

They are paid between $2.75 and $5.25 a day.

The inmates also learn job skills, most especially a work ethic, said Rick Rosenblatt, projects director for MCE.

He called the restoration program "spectacular."

"It's a way they can help pay back a little bit," Rosenblatt said.

For some inmates, this is the first job they had held, and the first time they have had to answer to a boss, he said.

Baye Parker has been involved with MCE's agricultural program for about four months. He is thinking about working in landscaping when he goes home.

"I might want a small garden," Parker said.

Working with the crops presents a "plethora of things to learn ... as long as you pay attention, you will learn," he said.

The inmates do a lot of planting, watering of their crops and maintenance to make sure weeds don't attack and kill the crops.

"This is a great opportunity for anyone in a prison system that's trying to get with an agricultural program when they get out of prison, a great stepping stone," Parker said.

Ailstock called the MCE bay preservation program "outstanding."

MCE's inmates also grow potatoes, beans, watermelons, cantaloupe, squash and other crops, all of which are grown without chemicals, said Rick Martin, agricultural supervisor.

He was impressed by the "commitment and curiosity of the inmates for doing just the right thing," he said.

The plants growing Friday in the greenhouse will help protect hundreds of feet of shoreline, and he hopes to continue the program in the future, Ailstock said.

The recidivism rate of inmates who participate in MCE is about 55 percent lower than the rate for the rest of the Division of Correction.

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