Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian was in town yesterday to visit inmate workers that have been in town this week lending their efforts to the post Hurricane Sandy clean-up effort.
Four members of the Middlesex County Sheriff's Community Work Program were at Chestnut Hill Cemetery the past couple of days to help remove debris, clean up the cemetery and help discard downed trees.
"This is a great program," Koutoujian said. "It benefits the local taxpayers and it benefits us. It's a win-win for everyone."
Koutoujian explained that the work provided is free for the communities in which it is performed. Following Hurricane Sandy his office contacted local towns and offered assistance and Burlington was one to accept.
He said the Community Work Program crews saved communities in Middlesex an estimated $1.544 million, including $40,000 for Burlington. Workers were in town earlier this year to work at the cemetery and performed cleaning and work at Burlington's schools.
"These monies tend to be funds the town would have spend to do these things or they just wouldn't get done," he said.
Koutoujian said the program is a boon for the Sheriff's Department and for the inmates themselves.
"It's a carrot," he said. "In order to be able to get on these crews, the inmates can't have any disciplinary record. It helps us maintain a better climate inside."
Koutoujian said many inmates want to be in the program. They get to go outside and get some exercise. Also, they live in dorm-style facilities rather than jail cells.
"It's something they aspire to do," he said.
Along with keeping a clean record once in prison, in order to be in the program inmates must have be non-violent offenders and complete an educational certification program.
"Because they go through all that programming they all will be better prepared to re-enter society," he said. "They're not sitting in a cell all day and they are getting into work-a-day routine. I helps for more successful reentry and helps protect the public."
Koutoujian added that the work itself has benefited some members of the program. Sometimes they discover they have a skill set they didn't know they had before being involved. For instance, he said, one former inmate in the program discovered he had a penchant for painting and once out turned it into a successful career.
Burlington Assistant Superintendent for the Highway Department Kevin Keene said he was glad to have the inmates lending a hand this week.
"It was great timing and worked well for us," he said. "Right now our division has a couple people out hurt and we are shorthanded. The timing was perfect when we received a phone call asking if we needed any help."
Keene added the workers were a big help in the clean-up.
They are good workers," he said. They did what they were asked to do. Basically we had our guys handling the chainsaws and they were dragging away the brush and logs and we had them clean up the sidewalks."
The inmates in the program are alway accompanied by a correction officer. Also, when they do work in schools, they do so when there are no students in the building.