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Convict Cleanup Slated for Spring 

"It's an untapped resource," Sink says. "Inmate labor is cheap — cheaper than you can pay anybody." The inmates will do such work as boarding up abandoned houses, cutting back weeds and removing debris.

The program, a collaboration between the Richmond Sheriff's Office and the city's Department of Community Development, is the first time convicts have been used to clean up private property, Sink says.

Apart from special projects in which offenders serving time on weekends work to clean up city property such as Bryan Park, inmate labor isn't used.

Inmates who qualify for the program will be paid $10 a week. Only nonviolent, "low-custody" offenders — such as those convicted of drug possession charges or of failing to pay child support — can participate.

But there is a catch: In order for inmates to be allowed on private property, City Council must approve the work as part of a community project.

If given the green light from council, Sink says, a Richmond Circuit Court judge must then issue a "blanket court order to cover the inmates" so they can go on private property.

Sink anticipates spinoffs, such as citywide beautification projects and regular lawn-cutting crews. The benefits could be even greater, he explains: "With this project you're teaching inmates how to get up every day and work. And hopefully it will lead to some kind of job placement once they get out of jail."

Inmates who've heard of the project seem eager to join up, he says. "Believe me, it's a run-down facility that gets hot as hell in the summer," he says. "If these guys can ride around in an air-conditioned truck for 20 minutes [between jobs], they'd be happy." S
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