Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Using Inmates to Fight Blight

This article showed up recently in Commercial Appeal regarding Memphis Tennessee. Memphis shares similar problems as Oakland with crime and blight. This program provides an opportunity to address issues of blight, while giving inmates an opportunity to contribute back to their community. With the large number of inmates and parolees that originate from Oakland, coupled with our massive budget deficit, large number of foreclosed properties and opportunities for economic stimulus money, this type of program is timely. In fact, this type of program seems to be just what Mayor Dellum's is all about.


Fighting blight: Inmates help clean up near Booker T. Washington High SchoolProject was part of Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives
By Linda A. Moore / lmoore@commercialappeal.comThursday, January 15, 2009

Eight years ago Markenis Benton was a senior at Booker T. Washington High and a member of its state championship basketball team. On Wednesday, Benton was part of a work crew from the Shelby County Division of Corrections that cleaned the vacant lot in front of the school. Benton was embarrassed by his aggravated robbery conviction, but said clearing the property near his alma mater is work he's proud of.

Inmates from the Shelby County jail clean up an abandoned apartment complex and vacant lot adjacent to Booker T. Washington High School Wednesday morning as part of a community action project launched by Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives. And he hoped the school kids were watching. "I hope they'll stop all the violence, do the right thing, stay positive and don't do what I did." Benton said.

The cleanup at Mississippi and Lauderdale was organized by Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives as its inaugural Community Action Project. FFUN partnered with the Shelby County Division of Correction, and Memphis' Division of Community Enhancement.

The cleanup marks a departure from the stop-the-violence rallies typically organized by activist Stevie Moore, president and founder of FFUN, who said blight has a direct correlation to crime. Removing trash, overgrown brush and cleaning graffiti from a nearby overpass is a positive for the school children who travel the area to and from school and for the entire neighborhood, he said. Moore, who served time in the 1980s, believes using inmate labor helps convicts understand their obligation to the community. "They took from the community," he said, whether it was joining gangs or selling dope. The men, most in the early 20s, need to learn to have pride in the work they do, Moore said.

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton was one of many officials attending the cleanup. "I've adopted a theory a long time ago that no public money should serve a single purpose," Wharton said. The same money that covered the inmates' daily expenses, he said, also paid to clear the lot and to teach a lesson to the young people.

About 20 inmates, all part of The 3R Project (Rehabilitate, Renew, Reconnect), volunteered for cleanup duty. "Our philosophy is you've got to give something back to the community. You're part of the community and that's what people do who are productive," said Andrew Taber, correction division director.

The 3R Project is a pilot program, funded by federal grants, that is aimed at reducing recidivism. Components include substance abuse rehabilitation, behavior management, vocational and educational training and parenting and life skills training. "Nobody sent out invitations. You did something to come here. We just don't want you to come back," Taber said. Cleanup participants were minimum- to medium-security inmates and, like Benton, who will be paroled in February, are near the end of their sentences.


Michael Caton said...

Agree totally. We have a resource (parolees) who have trouble finding work when they get out - this is hard work but provides a transition back to the real world.

Anonymous said...

I am particularly fond of the idea of forcing miscreants to clean up that which they or their cohorts likely defaced in the first place. Keep them busy... otherwise, the devil will find work for idle hands.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for posting off the subject, but please take a minute to sign the petition to help keep the A's at home in Oakland....


Thanks and go A's!!!