Countywide : Nonviolent Offenders Will Be Put to Work

More men and women convicted of nonviolent offenses may soon find themselves on the county cleanup brigade instead of serving time in jail under an expanded plan approved this week by the Board of Supervisors.

Some 65 offenders would be assigned to clear debris from roads and flood channels in a program designed to save money and ease jail overcrowding, said William M. Reiter, public works operations manager for the county Environmental Management Agency.

"We're now spending $225,000 a year on private contractors alone," Reiter said. "We can run the program with an average of 65 inmates, buy equipment and pay supervisors' salaries, all for $182,000 a year."

Reiter said the county now uses about 20 to 35 inmates four days a week to clean debris from the network of flood-control channels that crisscross the county. The expanded program would run seven days a week and double the number of nonviolent offenders serving work sentences in lieu of jail time.

Offenders chosen for the program have been convicted of such offenses as non-payment of child support or drunk driving. "We won't have rapist, robbers or murderers," Reiter said.

The work-release concept began last September with an experimental program using prisoners to remove unauthorized signs proliferating on south Orange County roads. Reiter said the trial program was so successful that the 20-person crew collected 13,244 "bootleg" signs by May 1, and still had time to help with roadside and flood channel cleanup.

When the expanded program is in full swing--by Sept. 1--prisoner crews should be able to remove trash and weeds from all flood channels at least once a year, and clean major flood facilities twice a year.

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