ECI Annex inmates allowed to work outside
Somerset ends 23-year ban at ECI
06/09/2010
The Daily Times - Online

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PRINCESS ANNE -- Inmates from the Eastern Correctional Institution Annex will be allowed to work outside prison walls for Somerset County government following a unanimous decision by County Commissioners to end a 23-year ban on the practice.

On a trial basis, the county will allow an inmate work crew at the Westover landfill.

"We don't have anything to lose," said Commissioner Rex Simpkins, a former ECI employee. "It's fenced in. If they're going anywhere, it won't be far."

The inmates can help sort recyclables and perform other tasks, Simpkins said. They will not replace existing paid county workers.

If the pilot program at the landfill is successful, commissioners say they will look at using them to clean up trash along county roads and other work.

County Commissioner President Mike McCready said the maintenance department might also be able to use them to maintain ditches and tide gates.

"I'm in favor of using them anywhere," said Commissioner Paul Ward.

Since the prison opened in 1987, county officials have denied requests for work release on numerous occasions.

Although county officials have always believed there was an agreement that the state would not release inmates for work crews in Somerset County, no such agreement was ever put in writing, leading them to believe any agreement was likely made only with a handshake.

And if any agreement existed, it was long before the annex was built, which houses a low-security population that eventually will be released when their sentences end.

The most recent request for work release was made in April by prison officials and members of a citizens advisory committee at ECI, who told commissioners that inmates released for work crews are supervised by a uniformed officer, and there would be no charge to the county.

Inmates from Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit in Wicomico County have been working in Somerset County on a daily basis for the State Highway Administration for many years. Some were recently assigned to plant 40,000 trees at Janes Island State Park in Crisfield.