Real work for the real world
11/07/2013
The Frederick News Post

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There was a little ceremony in Westminster on Tuesday that we think is worth reporting on in today’s editorial.

The event was nothing out of the ordinary — state and local officials were in attendance; a ribbon was cut.

The little commemoration ceremony, which The (Baltimore) Sun covered, marked the completion of a modest public works project that involved 200-plus handicapped-accessible curbs in the Carroll County city.

So why did The Sun want to cover this mundane-sounding story, and why are we devoting this space to it today?

This project required breaking up 30-year-old curbs, preparing the ground for new curbing, and then installing it. The new curbs feature grooved surfaces to aid the blind and ramps that permit easy access for wheelchairs and strollers.

There is certainly value in that for the city of Westminster, but what really makes this story worth telling are the Maryland prison inmates who worked the job.

As the Sun story points out, supervised work detail is nothing new for such prisoners — who are classified as low-security and pre-release inmates. In the past, however, motorists might have observed them keeping roadsides and medians free of litter.

But when it comes to helping to prepare these prisoners for their return to the outside world, a public works project such as rebuilding a city’s handicapped-accessible curbing is certainly more helpful to them than picking up trash.

That’s because it may, in a number of ways, help keep them from returning to crime — and prison. And if it does, that makes it good for society, also in a number of ways.

First, this re-curbing enterprise did not have the feel of a make-work project. It was needed and will serve the city well. That was certainly not lost on those prisoners who participated in it.

Second, it provided them with valuable work experience, including how to function as part of a team and acquiring specific work skills involving curb design and concrete construction.

Inmate Ronnie Townes says his participation in the project will enable him to demonstrate job experience when he gets out. “It’s a good experience. I’m learning, I’m working well with others. I’m out here because I want to do this when I get home,” said Townes, who is all of 21 years old.

The Westminster project is only one of many that more than 500 state inmates participate in on a daily basis — demolition, farm work, parkland restoration, road maintenance. All involve marketable skills that can be used by prisoners once they are released.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks that released inmates face in the outside world is finding work. If they are able to go to a potential employer and demonstrate successful work experience and specific skills, their chances of being hired increase.

In this case, being able to say, “I was part of a team that installed 214 new handicapped-accessible curbs throughout the city of Westminster” would give a former inmate confidence when seeking employment. It just might get the attention of a potential employer as well.