ECI allowed to expand prisoner projects
The Daily Times - Online

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Somerset commissioners give permission to look at landscaping, painting jobs

PRINCESS ANNE -- Somerset County Commissioners agreed to give prison officials more leeway in finding projects for ECI inmate crews after the director of the work release program said he's not interested in placing them at the county landfill.

"I'm looking for projects the public can see," said Darryl Webster, who runs the work release programs at Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit and the Eastern Correctional Institution Annex.

Additionally, Webster said during a meeting Tuesday with commissioners that he does not have crews available to work on a regular schedule but can provide crews to work on specific projects, such as landscaping and painting.

The town of Princess Anne has requested a crew to do landscaping work at the police station, and Webster said he thought it would make a good first project.

Two weeks ago, the commissioners agreed to end a 23-year ban on allowing inmates to work outside prison walls for Somerset County government.

They agreed on a trial basis to offer jobs to inmates at the Westover landfill, where they could help sort recyclables and perform other tasks.

At Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Rex Simpkins said he suggested the landfill only because he had received some negative feedback about the use of inmate crews in more public areas.

Webster said the Poplar Hill crews under the supervision of correctional officers are used throughout Salisbury, without any problems.

He also said he will not allow sex offenders in the crews.

"I think if they see what these guys can do, they'd be amazed," Webster said of critics. "They only thing I can say is give us a chance."

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.

If any agreement existed, it was made long before the annex was built, which houses a low-security population.

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 in Wicomico County have worked 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.