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Inmate crews set to begin local traininh

by: Submitted photo - DRCI inmates, in their distinctive clothing, cut weeds around the prison in this recent photo. They are supervised by officer Ken Swilling.


   Sporting blue jeans and work shirts emblazoned with an orange Deer Ridge Correctional Institution logo, a 10-man inmate work crew will become an increasingly familiar site around Madras later this month.
   After a week-long training period, a select group of inmates is expected to begin spending 40 hours a week working for the city by mid- to late-April.
   With their distinctive vests and bright blue helmets, they'll be easy to spot, according to Parrish Van Wert, community development coordinator.
   "The inmates wear a lime green reflective vest, stamped with `inmate' on the back in big, bold black letters, when they're out on work crew," he said.
   In a one-of-a-kind agreement between the city of Madras and the Department of Corrections, DRCI will provide a six- to 10-man crew and supervising officer to the city for the life of the institution -- at no cost to the city.
   At a market value of up to $250,000 per year, the prison work crew, which will start work for the city of Madras next week, will provide about $6 million in services over the next 24 years, City Administrator Mike Morgan estimated.
   Because the city could not afford to pay for such a crew, "This is stuff that would never have been done," he said.
   The inmates will pick up garbage, work to maintain city parks, trails, entryways, and median strips, paint outbuildings, and patch potholes, as well as install landscaping on the median strips in front of Juniper Hills Park.
   Rod Fulton, street supervisor for the city, who will oversee the crew, plans to spend the first week training the crew at the city shops on B Street.
   "I want to train them here first so they can see what they're expected to do; then we'll get them to Sahalee Park," he said.
   "With the budget constraints, this is coming at a good time for us," he said. "What we're going to do with the work crew is a lot of clean up along the trails, tree pruning, get all the weeds pulled out along City View, J Street, the North Y and South Y."
   The DRCI inmates are just a few of the hundreds of DOC inmates who work in prison communities around the state.
   "We have between 800 and 850 inmates working in communities around the state five days a week," said Van Wert, noting that there are about 208,000 times each year that an inmate is out in a community, for a total of 1,248,000 engagements over the past six years.
   To put the numbers in perspective, he said, in the six years from 2002 to 2007, 25 inmates walked away from work crews. "Of those 25, all were recaptured, save one," he said.
   The community has nothing to fear from the inmates, he stressed.
   "These inmates who go out in the community are highly screened for their crime of conviction, their physical health, their psychiatric health, as well as their behavior as an inmate, both with their fellow inmates and officers in the facility," he explained.
   Because the work crew jobs are the most highly coveted by inmates in the Department of Corrections, said Van Wert, "They don't want to mess up and lose these opportunities."
   Besides the benefit to the community, the work also benefits the inmates.
   "It gets them outside the fence," he said. "It's a healing process for them, as well as paying society back and helping curb the costs of incarceration."
   Chris Coleman, of Redmond, who recently transferred from the state penitentiary to DRCI, is the new inmate work program coordinator.
   "I create jobs in the computer and monitor and track inmate hours to make sure they're in compliance with Measure 17 -- which requires inmates to work 40 hours a week," she explained.
   Although the inmate crew is "for the lifetime of the prison," she said, "We write up a master agreement that is good for two years, because things change, and we continually update."
   Coleman expects the main document to be signed April 8, after which DRCI will enter into a work order, or project description to outline what the inmates will be doing.
   "We will not allow inmates to do anything outside the work order," she said.
   "Basically, the main thing is they have to be trained," Coleman said. "We don't do the training; if the city of Madras wants them to use some sort of equipment, it will be up to the city to train them."
   The city is ready and willing to train the crew, which would normally cost $525 per day, or $136,500 per year -- or a market value of at least $247,000 per year.
   The crew will not take the place of city workers, Morgan said. "It needs to be emphasized that we could never come up with $247,000," he said.