It's working for Salisbury
Inmate work crews labor to everyone's benefit
The Daily Times

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Dilemma: City of Salisbury needs to reduce crime rate, but like most governments in 2010, also faces budget challenges. Safe Streets grant has provided some money, but not enough to accomplish everything that needs to be done.

One way to discourage criminal activity is to destroy "habitat" used by criminals to engage in illegal activities, hide before or after committing a crime or stash stolen goods. Such habitat exists in several areas of the city, including Princeton Homes, Doverdale, Church Street, Coty Cox Branch and adjacent to railroads. Clearing away the trash, brush, tree limbs and other clutter will eliminate criminal habitat. But paying city employees to do the work or contracting with a private company to get the job done is out of the question; the resources just aren't available.

Solution: Beginning Monday, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services will provide supervised work crews comprising pre-release inmates from Poplar Hill and Eastern Correctional Institution to clear alleyways and other areas of the city that may harbor hidden criminal activity. This work will be performed at no charge to the city of Salisbury.

The project will be completed through a cooperative partnership between the mayor's office, Salisbury Department of Public Works, DPSCS and the city's office of Neighborhood Services and Code Compliance.

There are other benefits. Residents and property owners may be more likely to clean up their own yards if the city's concern for their well-being is tangibly demonstrated. That sense of pride and ownership may extend to the inmates engaged in community service, to everyone's benefit. For example, inmates who are military veterans who clean up and beautify VA cemeteries relate to the task in a personal way.

Maryland's DPSCS maintains more than 30 full-time inmate work crews that are available throughout the state to county or municipal governments, as well as churches and nonprofit agencies. For short-term projects like Salisbury's, this service comes without charge. Longer-term projects require payment of a few hundred dollars a day to cover expenses. Elsewhere in Maryland, these crews have helped build houses for Habitat for Humanity, welcome signs at municipal entries and other public projects that not only benefit the communities in which they take place, but also provide valuable job experience, skills and in some cases, employment opportunities to inmates before their release.

Such crews might also be employed in beach or waterway cleanups, painting projects at school buildings, post offices or community centers; landscaping projects in public areas such as Salisbury's Downtown Plaza; or to beautify parks and roadsides. Organization and church leaders, as well as elected officials, should look for relevant ways to integrate inmate work crews with the needs of the community.

As long as tools, materials and supplies are available, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services will provide manpower and supervision. All it takes to get started is a phone call.