A Smart Use of Inmate Resources

October 2008

Denver has come up with an innovative and smart program to cut prison overcrowding, save money, and help the elderly at the same time. The Rocky Mountain News reports:

Since May, Denver city jail inmates have been making weekly rounds to the homes of elderly and disabled residents who need help maintaining their yards. "We take care of little minor issues," said Denver Sheriff's Deputy Michael Newtown. "If it's a tree branch that's fallen, or (at) a lot of homes, we'll take the trash out for them and stuff like that." This winter, they'll shovel snow.

The inmates, sentenced to the county jail for non-violent crimes like drug possession, disturbing the peace, or shoplifting, volunteer for the program. If they have a ten-day sentence and volunteer one day, the remainder of the sentence is deemed served.

It's positive all the way around," [Denver Sheriff's deputy Michael ] Newtown said. "The citizens of the community really get a benefit from it. The inmates, instead of sitting in jail, they're allowed to lessen their sentence by doing a day's work." Currently, there are 44 people on the list for routine yard work. Newtown is responsible for 19 of those homes. Juvenile offender work crews handle the others. In addition, 80 people are on the list for snow removal.

What do the elderly homeowners think?

"They're a godsend," [resident Augustine] Narcisse said. "They're such a big help."

How do the volunteer inmates feel?

[Inmate] Ferris looked at Narcisse's now-clean yard, and he was proud. "Just being able to help somebody that can't do it themselves," Ferris said, "it gives you a good feeling knowing that you did a good deed for the day."

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