It’s 6:00 a.m. and time for breakfast. The first of the work crews are getting ready for a hard day’s work outside whether it is rain or shine, hot or cold. They are grouped together in dorms at Multnomah County Inverness Jail. They have the same goals; do a good day’s work, and get out of jail for the day. As one inmate described it “we have less arguing, less fighting and have a common goal to work together. We like being outside no matter what the weather is like. It feels good to have accomplished something at the end of the day”.
Many of you have seen them in their orange safety vests and bib overalls. They have qualified to work outside cleaning and trimming next to highways, vacant public buildings and a myriad of other projects and a majority of inmates enjoy it. This also includes some nasty cleanups like illegal dump sites and homeless camps.
Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has a unique program for keeping jail inmates active and helping out the community. This program is open to both male and female inmates, although the two groups are housed separately and do not work together. They are very carefully screened and closely supervised. All work inmates are from general housing offenders’ minimum and low risk. Sergeant Brown said it has been many years since they have had a walk-away and they were quickly apprehended. Since they are on the outside the Sheriff’s Office wants to make sure the public is protected and takes measures to help insure that. All of the inmates indicated it is a privilege to work outside and they don’t want to do anything that would cause them to lose that benefit.
The list of projects they are responsible for is quite amazing. We are all familiar with the cleanup in parks and along roadsides. However they set up tents and chairs for non-profit events. They move boulders in the Willamette River to enhance salmon habitat much to the chagrin of the bass. They do projects for the March of Dimes, Friends of the Library, Oregon Department of Transportation and multiple government agencies. Costs recovered through the different government agencies and non-profits are reinvested in the Work Crew program to offset costs and provide equipment for the work crews. While the program is not fully self-supported it provides an excellent value for taxpayers who benefit from the services the inmates contribute.
There are 13 Sheriff’s Deputies that are in charge of the program. They manage the inmates and sometime you will see them pitch in to help on difficult projects. Deputy Martin shared that some of the younger inmates have never operated power equipment, like chain saws, mowers and weed trimmers. At some level they can take these skills and use them on the outside working for landscaping companies.
They also work with other counties that have similar programs on an annual basis if they have a large project. Inmates from Yamhill, Washington and Clackamas County will bring all of their work crews together for a single project. That is a lot of manpower coming together and they can get an amazing amount of work done in a short period of time.
One of the inmates shared with me that he has had a problem with alcohol most of his life which started with his dad. He has a good trade, family with children and wants to get out of the cycle of habitual DUII’s. I asked him what he has learned being on the work crews. The most important thing for him was structure, learning to try harder, staying out of trouble. He wants to start a new life and by learning to work with both inmates and deputies he recognizes his possibility.
So the next time you see those large crew cabs hauling a trailer and those inmates and deputies out there working in the heat give them a thumbs up. What a great value for your tax dollars.