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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, March 15, 2012

Sheriff puts inmates to work

NEW SCOTLAND — About three weeks ago, men clad in bright orange stripes and under armed guard began appearing along local public highways, and the garbage strewn along the roads began disappearing.

In addition to roadside garbage removal, the Albany County Correctional Facility inmates help public and non-profit organizations with a range of tasks.

Those tasks have included renovating both the Victory Christian Church’s Dream Center in Albany and the Albany Police Athletic League headquarters. For almost every day for the last few weeks, inmates have also been stocking donated food at the Northeast Regional Food Bank.

As the weather continues to warm, the Sheriff’s Office reports residents can expect to see inmates performing more outdoor work details in their neighborhoods.

So why has the Albany County jail started inmate work crews? Sheriff Craig Apple, who took the reins in November, wants to put inmates to work. Apple isn’t shy to explain why.

“The message is: If you come to Albany County (jail), you’re not here to sleep your time away for 23 hours a day and play basketball for the other one, or watch TV. You’re here to work,” explained Apple. “This is a correctional facility and it’s suppose to correct behavior.”

Though incarceration may deter some criminals, Apple is quick to point out the high rate of repeat offenders. So, in response, Apple said his office is beginning to explore and execute a number of programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

While some of these programs focus on public service, others require inmates to work for themselves, such as a proposed General Educational Development program and business placement program. Apple said he soon hopes pre-screened inmates will participate in a jailhouse GED course, to earn the equivalent of a high school diploma, while others could be placed at select businesses to develop usable work skills for when they’re released.

“I want to put them work, I want to get them in a GED program, I want them to have skills after they leave here so that they don’t land back here. Most people get out and have nowhere to go. People don’t know how to be productive citizens and the recidivism rate is sky high. We recognize we need mechanisms in place to change that,” said Apple. “So the community benefits, law enforcement benefits, and the inmates can benefit.”

Apple noted not every inmate is interested in participating on a work detail. “Some inmates might not like the idea, that it’s an embarrassment to them, picking up garbage and so on — I don’t really care. I say, if you don’t want to be embarrassed, don’t commit crime.”

The work program also allows inmates to focus on a constructive outlet. Apple said those involved in the work program had fewer conflicts with other inmates and officers. Since county inmates are sentenced to a year or less of incarceration, many residing there have committed lower-level crimes.

“If it’s a violent offender, they can work inside the facility but, if you’re there for shoplifting, you’re a good candidate,” said Apple.

Each weekday, about 45 inmates participate in the program with at least eight a day doing eight hours of work each. On average, the sheriff said, inmates perform about 450 hours of work a week.

On March 12, inmates had gathered 16 full bags of roadside garbage in just the first half of the day. Apple said he hopes to announce the launch of a GED and work program by this summer.

The sheriff said he was inspired while he was out jogging and noticed how degraded some of the fire hydrants had become. “One of my pet peeves is fire hydrants. If you can’t see them in the day, firemen won’t find it fighting a 2 a.m. fire,” he said.

Across the county, inmates started their first work efforts a few weeks ago by painting dozens of fire hydrants and cutting brush from around them.

By Tyler Murphy

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