Inmates Clear Storm Debris from Beach
10/05/2011
The Capital - Online

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For seven hours yesterday, Robert Richardson toiled at Sandy Point State Park cleaning up storm debris.

Pick up a large piece of driftwood. Throw it in a trailer. Repeat.

"It's strenuous work," the 33-year-old Baltimore man said between logs. "It will keep you healthy. I'll tell you that."

He wasn't complaining. Working in the shadow of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge - with sand under his feet and a cool breeze on his face - sure beat the dorms at the Brockbridge Correctional Facility in Jessup, he said.

"I haven't seen the beach in a long time," said Richardson, who was convicted in 2007 in Baltimore on two counts of second-degree assault and again in March for violating the terms of his probation.

Under the supervision of a state correctional officer, Richardson and four other minimum-security inmates nearing release worked Friday and yesterday to clean up the mile-long beach. They filled seven Dumpsters with driftwood, pieces of fence, and lawn ornaments - primarily storm debris left over from Tropical Storm Lee.

"This is the No. 1 job you can get" at the prison, said Jonathan Kippax, a 21-year-old Glen Burnie man convicted last July of second-degree burglary and sentenced to one year in prison. "It's the only real job you can get that is outside."

The beach cleanup detail is part of the state's Public Safety Works program, launched in 2008 as a way for inmates to pay society back while they also learn life skills.

"The lock 'em up and throw away the key mentality doesn't work," said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. He said that as more than 90 percent of inmates in state prisons will eventually be released, the state should try to rehabilitate them before they are returned to society.

"They need a chance to succeed so they don't get out and create more victims," he said.

The program, which employs about 400 inmates on any given day, also helps local municipalities, state government agencies and nonprofit organizations undertake projects they otherwise couldn't afford. Vernarelli noted that the inmates who cleaned up the beach made $2.60 a day, all of which will be deposited into their prison accounts.

Other work details that fall under the Public Safety Works banner: an inmate-tended rescue farm in Sykesville that takes care of thoroughbred horses, a home-building program that works with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for the working poor, and a landscaping program that uses incarcerated veterans to maintain the state's veterans cemeteries.

Over the past three years, inmates also have seeded the Chesapeake Bay with baby oysters and planted more than 2.5 million trees, Vernarelli said. Several hundred of those trees were planted in Antietam, as part of an effort to restore an apple orchard destroyed during the famous Civil War battle.

Kenny Hartman, manager for Sandy Point State Park, praised the inmates yesterday for their hard work cleaning up the beach. His staff had been trying to clean up the beach, but had other things to do each day.

"This is a little more debris than we are used to dealing with," said Hartman, who thanked the inmates. "They've been doing a great job. They have really put a dent in it."