By DAVID GREEN
It didn’t take long for the first phone call to arrive last week at the Fayette village hall. Someone spotted a man dressed in orange and white striped clothing that looked like a prison outfit.
It’s true, it was a prison outfit, and inside the clothing was an actual prisoner.
Two prisoners were “walking free” in Fayette as the village participates in the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio (CCNO) Community Public Works Program.
Although the program has proven very popular in Williams, Defiance and Henry counties, Fulton County lags behind in making use of the free service.
Jail officials started the community program in 1990, shortly after the prison was constructed, said media spokesperson Linda Shambarker, and it’s been very successful.
Some municipalities are eager to put prisoners to work while others have little interest, she said, but she’s hoping more will take part. As of now, there aren’t enough sites to fill the list of inmates signed up for the program.
“They enjoy getting out and being able to work,” Shambarker said. “Some of them have a lot of skills. They feel good about helping and paying back, doing something positive for the community.”
Successful participation can also cut a few days off a prisoner’s sentence.
Not just anyone is allowed to participate, Shambarker said. The screening process is extensive, and once out on the job, inmates have several rules they must follow.
The majority of participants are in jail on misdemeanor charges, such as petty theft, vandalism and drunk driving.
“If any red flags pop up, they’re not allowed,” Shambarker said.
Those who make it through the screening participate in an orientation session to learn the restrictions they must follow, such as no telephone calls, no visits from family or friends and no alcohol use.
Each participating municipality must send a representative to a training session, also, to learn the rules and receive tips on making the program work. Inmates must be within sight of a supervisor the entire time they’re working.
Jail officials help out by checking up on their workers occasionally.
“We do surprise checks to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Shambarker said.
“It’s gone well for the most part,” she said. “In the past five years we’ve adopted a more intense risk assessment procedure. We want to protect the public and inmate both.”
In 20 years of the program, nearly 5,900 inmates have taken part. Based on minimum wage, the program has save local municipalities about $5.4 million.
Fayette started the program May 9 with two prisoners removing brush from curbs. That job is expected to continue throughout the month.
Inmates will also help with trimming, mowing and seeding grass, and cleaning up the running/walking track. Help is also expected when the pool is decommissioned in June, when the pool rest rooms are updated, and for miscellaneous tasks.
The only cost to the village is the gasoline and time needed for an employee to drive to Wauseon and back to meet a bus driven from CCNO.