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Inmate work program saves towns money

Middlesex House of Correction inmates cleaned the Underwood Pool in Belmont on Wednesday, saving the town $7,000. Middlesex House of Correction inmates cleaned the Underwood Pool in Belmont on Wednesday, saving the town $7,000. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Jenna Duncan
Globe Correspondent / June 10, 2011

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Inmates at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica saved the town of Belmont more than $7,000 on Wednesday by spending the day cleaning and repainting the town pool in exchange for some time away from their cells.

In the Community Work Program, groups of six or seven inmates who are ending their nonviolent sentences work on projects such as snow shoveling and graffiti removal, and since January they have saved municipalities in Middlesex County roughly half a million dollars, Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian said.

“As a former legislator, I see this as a form of local aid,’’ said Koutoujian, who spent nearly a decade as a state representative. “It’s very important to the municipalities.’’

This summer, the crews, which are always monitored by a corrections officer, will work in communities throughout the county on projects such as tree removal and painting public buildings and offices.

The program is mutually beneficial, Koutoujian said, because municipalities get services they need for free and it helps transition inmates that are close to their release dates.

“It prepares them for reentry into the workforce,’’ he said. “It’s better if they’re in the work-a-day rhythm rather than sitting in a jail cell all day long.’’

The feedback for the program has been positive, Koutoujian said. At least once a week, he receives a letter or phone call from a town manager or local official saying how valuable the program is to their town.

“They would rather do something with their day than sit in a jail cell,’’ he said. “We never have any problems with these inmates — they are motivated and productive.’’

Jenna Duncan can be reached at jduncan@globe.com.