News: Free Labor

Prisoners take to the streets to tidy up

Sep 27, 2006 at 2:06 pm

Even if Cincinnati police and leaders aren't able to bring crime under control in Over-the-Rhine, at least they have a helping hand with the trash.

It's been six weeks since Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. held a news conference and blasted county judges for imposing sentences that bar inmates from being released early for their labor.

"It's kind of stupid not to let the inmates work — the ones who can work," he said. "As sheriff, I want prisoners to work."

Since then some of the few inmates who are allowed to work for reduced sentences are doing so — and to much praise.

Ann Fledderman, an attorney, emerged from her office on Sycamore Street a few weeks ago after the sheriff's crew had passed. In fact, an associate of hers had just finished speaking with a deputy. He'd stopped the deputy supervising the inmates and expressed his thanks, then left.

When Fledderman stepped onto the sidewalk, she said, "I was just getting ready to pen a thank you letter to Simon Leis." After seven years on Sycamore in Over-the-Rhine, Fledderman wonders why no one thought sooner of having prisoners do clean-up.

"Normally we do it ourselves," she said. "It's a mess out here in the mornings. You wouldn't believe what we find."

Among her list: dirty diapers, every conceivable form of trash, a handful of items she'd rather not mention and even a live puppy someone had discarded inside the law office's iron fence.

Inmates on Sycamore were recently finishing for the day and loading their equipment onto a landscape trailer attached to a sheriff's office's van.

"People have been thanking us all day every day," said Dave Fenner, one of the prisoners working the shift.

Deputy Ray Hilvert, the officer in charge of the crew, mentioned the Over-the-Rhine community's sentiment, repeatedly saying, "You guys are doing a great job. Thanks!"

While some of the inmates on the crew receive reduced sentences, others volunteer just so they don't have to sit inside all day.

One resident, sitting on a stoop near Elm and Findlay streets, said he hasn't seen that much trash picked up since the garbage truck came around.

There have been discussions about more crews on the streets, according to Steve Barnett, Leis' spokesman. There are currently 10 inmates working an eight-hour day shift Monday through Friday. They're picking up trash, sweeping sidewalks and curbs with brooms and a power sweeper, using power blowers and weed-eaters to clear sidewalks and spraying weed killers on sidewalks and curbs.

"We really need more inmates available for work details," Barnett says. "In the future we definitely hope to have more. It only takes one officer to supervise 10 inmates."

Security is always an issue.

"We have to be very careful who we put out on the streets," Barnett says.

So far they seem to have chosen well. The city streets are being cleaned, there have been no incidents with the crew and it isn't costing taxpayers anything extra.

"If the officer wasn't on the street, he'd be supervising the same inmates at the Justice Center," Barnett says. ©