Program trades reduced sentences for litter cleanup

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

By Matt Sanders

Southeast Missourian

BENTON, Mo. -- Scott County's roads may be a little cleaner soon with the help of county jail inmates.

The county commission and Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter say a new work program that will have select inmates picking up litter in exchange for reduced sentences will get underway as soon as possible.

Jamie Burger, second district commissioner, said the program has been in consideration for a long time.

Walter said he is ready to go. The idea was first considered about a year ago, he said, and he's been prepared to get such a program underway.

Walter has signs to tell motorists prisoners are working and the reflective vests prisoners will use for protection are ready to go when the program starts. He and the commissioners say they're just waiting for the resources to put deputies out with the prisoners.

Under the proposed program, prisoners would pick up trash along county roads under deputy supervision. Each day a prisoner works would knock one day off his or her sentence.

Burger said the idea is modeled off a joint program between the state Department of Corrections and Department of Transportation in which state prisoners pick up litter with MoDOT crews for compensation.

Prisoners at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston are part of the program. They are paid $7.50 for every day they pick up litter with MoDOT crews -- a practice MoDOT said has saved the state $16.7 million per year.

Scott City also uses inmates to perform similar work -- picking up litter and mowing grass on state, city and railroad rights of way and cleaning up yard nuisances.

Scott City police chief Don Cobb said his city's program has been in place the entire four years that he's been chief. While the program isn't problem-free, he said there are definite benefits. Scott City inmates who work earn $5.15 per hour to pay toward any court costs, fines or restitution they owe.

"This is money we weren't going to get back anyway," said Cobb. "A lot these people were not going to show up for court and weren't going to pay their fines. This way they get done with us, we get done with them and the city gets work done for it."

Priggel said litter along county roads is a big problem in the county. Using this program that litter can be picked up without using highway department personnel who are already stretched thin, he said.

Only non-violent prisoners who show good behavior will be allowed in the program, Burger said.

"Not every person in jail is a bad person, some of them have just made bad decisions," Burger said.

Walter said he had already reached an agreement with Associate Circuit Judge David Mann on the sentence reduction aspect of the program. But when Mann leaves office at the end of the year, the program will depend on reaching the same agreement with successor Scott Horman.

The county commission hopes that an agreement can be easily reached. In their opinion the program is a win-win situation.

"We have prisoner overcrowding, and we have trash problems," said Burger. "This way the roads get cleaned up, and we alleviate some of our cost on housing inmates."

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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