ECI Inmates Clean Up the Town
The Daily Times

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PRINCESS ANNE -- For the past few months, a work crew decked out in bright yellow T-shirts has been pulling weeds, cleaning storm drains, painting curbs and performing other tasks all over town.

This first group of inmates from Eastern Correctional Institution to be allowed out on work release is suddenly in demand after Somerset County Commissioners agreed in June to lift a 23-year ban on the practice.

"We've had nothing but positive feedback so far," said Darryl Webster, who heads the work release program at Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit and now at the minimum-security ECI Annex. "Everybody's just been tickled to death with them."

On most days, the crew works for the town of Princess Anne, starting in June with landscaping and cleanup at the police station.

They now work on a regular basis for the town's public works department where they spent the past few days sprucing up the streets in preparation for this weekend's Olde Princess Anne Days and the Sea Gull Century bike ride that comes through town.

"They're fantastic," said Town Commissioner Dennis Williams. "If I sound enthusiastic, it's because I am."

The work crew also is starting to get requests from other organizations and agencies.

A crew recently painted a Somerset County Ruritan Club trailer, cleaned up the grounds at Washington High School and cleared weeds around the Princess Anne Chamber of Commerce's welcome signs on Route 13.

On Thursday they cleaned up the Princess Anne fire hall in preparation for a weekend art exhibit and crab feast.

Usually the crew consists of six inmates under the supervision of a uniformed correctional officer, Webster said. Workers are screened before they are allowed out in public.

Since the prison opened in 1987, county officials denied requests for work release on numerous occasions.

Although county officials have always believed there was an agreement that the state would not release inmates for work crews in Somerset County, no such agreement was ever put in writing.

And if any agreement existed, it was made long before the Annex -- which houses a low-security population -- was built.

The most recent request for work release was made in April by prison officials and members of a citizens advisory committee at ECI.

Two months later, County Commissioners agreed to allow it, but requests must first get their approval. So far, they have agreed to all of them.

Town residents -- who once might have been fearful of the prison when it opened 23 years ago -- now seem glad to see the inmates out working.

"Homeowners come out and say thanks when they see them in front of their house," Webster said. "It's really working out well."