Scioto County’s roadways are trashed. At the start of the year, rotating crews of six to eight workers hit the hot spots for dumping on a daily basis. Most of those workers came from work-release programs. When COVID-19 hit, jails no longer allowed anyone in or out. In fact, many stopped taking inmates all together in most cases. Police issued a summons to criminals instead of hauling them in. That left no way to get workers to the roads and no new probationers to swap work for jail time.
Scioto County’s Roads suffered for it. Back in February, the last full month when inmates picked up trash, 8.7 tons of garbage was collected from roadways. Multiply that by the three months since the shutdown and there’s 27 tons worth of trash by the side of our roads.
Shawn Davis, Chief Probation Officer for Scioto County Common Pleas Court, decided he was tired of waiting around and wanted to do something about it. “We thought we would create our own work force and still provide a service to the community.”
Better Than Jail
Davis said the workforce is made up of people who would normally serve 3 to 10 days in jail. Instead, they get the option to serve their community.
“We’ve not been able to do anything since COVID,” Davis said. Using jail inmates is still not practical. “The jail would be worried about us going over there and picking people up.”
He assured the public that safety precautions are in place. Inmates and county employees will wear masks and gloves. Social distancing is a priority. “We’re thinking with the van, we can take three to four out at a time and stagger them.”
Davis said it’s not too soon to start the program up again. “I don’t think we’re too early; a lot of people are going to be worried. I think we can safely run this program. It’s better than sitting around at home.”
A Second Chance
The non-violent offenders on the crews are mostly drug offenders. Davis said even those in trouble for theft or forgery and nearly always trace the root of their problems back to drugs.
“Not traffickers, but the people who are causing damage to themselves. In Ohio, that’s still a felony. They are low-level non-violent offenders.”
The program does more than beautify the county. Davis said it improves the relationship between POs and probationers. “When you spend several hours a day, everyday, with someone, you tend to learn more about that person. They open up better. They talk about their problems. I haven’t had anything negative come out of the program. It’s a win/win for probationers and for our community.
In addition to picking up trash, last year probationers cut grass for townships and participated in projects to aid non-profits. This year, Davis said they will start with the trash.
“We’ll probably hit the roadways first. Then we’ll start fielding calls for cutting grass at cemeteries for townships. They have the equipment. We provide labor.” He said no non-profits had called for help yet, but he’s expecting the call.
“We’re getting better results out of doing this program. It teaches work ethics. It’s a win/win situation for us here at probation.”