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BCSO kicks off Inmate Work Force program

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By Tom Wilmoth

    The inmates get fresh air and the chance to contribute back to society.

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    Bedford County gets cleaner roadsides.
    That’s the deal that’s been hatched out between the county and a group of low-risk inmates as the Sheriff’s Office kicked off its Inmate Work Force program last week.
    On July 16 the first crew, which uses low-risk inmates to perform needed community work, hit the roads picking up trash from the county’s secondary roads.
    “This will improve the overall appearance of the county and allow for a more hygienic and aesthetic environment  for  the  citizens  of   Bedford  County,”according to Major Ricky Gardner of the BCSO.
     The inmates volunteer their services for the program and must qualify to participate. Only non-violent offenders and non-felons are permitted to participate.
    “We’re excited about this new venture,” Gardner said. “We’re trying to hit various parts of the county.”
    Inmates, who volunteer to work, will not receive any extra credit on their time served. The number of daily work force inmates will be based on their desire to volunteer and their eligibility. An off-duty deputy will be responsible for the overall security and supervision of the inmate work detail.
    Gardner said the incentive for the inmates is to build self esteem and get outside for some meaningful work. “This is a team effort and one of the key players, of course, is the inmates,” he said of the program. “We have not had any negative comments.”
     The details are planned to work three days a week—Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Weather and the availability of inmates and supervisors will ultimately decide the work schedule.
     The program is being run in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Transportation, which will supply the trash bags, warning signs and will pick up the full trash bags the following day. For security reasons, different areas of the county will be policed daily and chosen from a list of problem areas provided by citizens and VDOT.  
    Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown has been exploring the possibility of starting such a program for several years. After being contacted by Bedford County District 1 Supervisor Bill Thomasson and checking on the legal aspects of the program, Sheriff Brown asked the  County Board of Supervisors to include the program in his 2012-2013 budget. The program is costing the county  $30,000.
    “It’s a win-win situation,” Thomasson said of the program.
    The board approved the request; the money will be used to pay the deputies who sign up to work the details.
    In addition:
    • a portable toilet will be mounted on a trailer and will be pulled behind the transport van;
    • the transport van, which was already in the fleet, will be outfitted with amber safety lights and a prisoner transport compartment;
    • the inmates will be issued work boots and safety vests supplied by the Sheriff’s Office; and
    • the jail will prepare bag lunches daily for the inmates and deputy.
    The first week proved to be successful with the inmates picking up a total of 52 bags of trash in several different areas.
    Inmate Kevin Goode was appreciative of the opportunity.
    “I am blessed to have it,” he said. “I’m just doing it to help out.”
    VDOT, as well as calls to the county, helps provide information about the areas that need trash picked up. Typically, VDOT doesn’t pick up trash on the roads where the inmates will be working.
    As a supervisor, Board Chairman Chuck Neudorfer said he regularly takes calls from residents telling him about debris that needs picked up along the county’s roads. The amount of money invested is a small amount compared to the work that will be done, he said.