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Inmates helping to cut labor costs; `It's a win for the inmates ... it's a win for the communities'.

Byline: Danielle M. Williamson

GARDNER - Like the majority of his counterparts in Worcester County, Mayor Mark P. Hawke isn't expecting a cash windfall to pad the city's budget anytime soon.

Therefore, certain projects have been pushed aside. Leaks in the roof at City Hall have gone unrepaired, while paint in the building's stairwell and council chambers has been chipping away.

Aware of a community service program that puts minimum-security inmates to work on such projects, Mr. Hawke spoke to Worcester County Sheriff Guy W. Glodis at his inauguration earlier this month. On Monday, a crew of four inmates started plastering, drywalling and painting at City Hall.

"A lot of neglected portions of City Hall are being taken care of," Mr. Hawke said. "We had money for supplies but didn't have people to do the work. The city simply can't afford to pay for labor costs."

Launched under former Sheriff John M. Flynn, the community service program grew after Sheriff Glodis took office in 2005. Sheriff Glodis estimates that his inmates have saved Central Massachusetts communities $3.8 million since he's been in charge, and completed projects increased from 30 to 100 annually. There's a roughly three-month waiting list for municipalities or nonprofit organizations to be considered for the program, which has touched most communities in the county.

In Gardner, the inmates' efforts over the next couple of weeks should save the city $20,000 in labor costs, according to Sheriff Glodis. Including the ongoing work, inmates will have saved the city $50,000 since 2005.

"It's a real pleasant surprise to get this stuff done," said Building Inspector Richard Reynolds. "Repairing the leaks in the second floor of City Hall Annex would cost money that we just don't have."

Local, state and federal agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations, are eligible for the program, which uses nonviolent inmates who are reaching the end of their sentences. The municipalities or organizations need only provide the supplies and lunch for the inmates. A few hundred dollars in painting supplies was funded in this year's budget, Mr. Hawke said.

"If we hired someone, we'd have to pay the prevailing wage, probably $30 an hour, not including benefits," Mr. Hawke said.

The community service program is voluntary. Generally, participants have committed such crimes as larceny, drug possession or drunken driving. Sex offenders are not eligible. Work crews, which include up to five inmates, are escorted and supervised by an armed correction officer. Sheriff Glodis said there have not been any issues with inmates trying to escape. Six crews are working in various Central Massachusetts locations each week.

"We have ironworkers, electricians, painters, plasterers ... these are people who practiced these trades for a living," Sheriff Glodis said. "It's a win for the inmates, and it's a win for the communities. The inmates are learning work ethics and knowing they're giving back to society, and it's a real win for cash-strapped municipalities."

Inmates who want to be part of the program but lack skill in a particular trade can help with such jobs as graffiti removal and streetscaping, the sheriff said.

Yesterday, Sheriff Glodis toured parts of West Brookfield, where inmates have been working at the library, Town Hall and fire station. Those projects have saved the town $53,000 in the last month, he said.

A full list of completed projects, listed by community, is available on the sheriff department's Web site, www.worcestercountysheriff.com.

NAME: WORCESTER COUNTY JAIL AND HOUSE OF CORRECTION

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Worcester County House of Correction inmate Jason Brooks holds a ladder as inmate Gary Chestna paints a ceiling at Gardner City Hall yesterday. (2) Worcester County House of Correction inmate Scott Stromberg paints a window in Gardner City Hall.

PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/RICK CINCLAIR
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 31, 2008
Words:628
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