Putting jail and prison inmates convicted of relatively minor, nonviolent crimes to work bettering their communities is an excellent idea. Though we sometimes see inmate work crews engaged in tasks such as picking up litter beside highways, more could be done in both Ohio and West Virginia.

Members of Belmont Village Council discussed the idea recently with county Common Pleas Judges Frank Fregiato and John Vavra. The conversation was prompted by a flyer, titled “Inmate Work Force,” produced by Belmont County resident Don Krahel. It suggested using county jail inmates to reduce the costs of some projects undertaken by local government entities.

Vavra and Fregiato emphasized Krahel’s idea is only that. No such formal program exists.

Nevertheless, there are provisions for community service, usually through the courts’ probation department and drug courts, the judges noted.

They added that they agree with the concept of community service by those incarcerated for misdemeanor crimes or on probation for them. Fregiato and Vavra suggested that if Belmont officials have proposals for use of community service workers, they contact court officials.

Inmates and probationers can provide invaluable help to local and state agencies, often performing tasks that otherwise would not be affordable. One example is picking up litter beside highways.

Probationers benefit through opportunities to complete community service sentences. Inmates often enjoy the chance to get outside jail and prison walls and fences for a few hours.

It is a win-win situation, as Fregiato noted.

But arranging such work crews is not easy. Only select probationers/inmates can participate. Security must be adequate. The safety of both workers and the public, as well as liability for any injuries, are concerns.

The inmate work crew idea holds enormous potential – if it can be expanded. In both West Virginia and Ohio, judges, corrections officials and, if necessary, legislators should find ways to make that happen.

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