D.C. inmates helped shovel during snowstorm

The massive snowstorm two weeks ago was so substantial the District had to rely on inmates to help shovel the snow.

The D.C. Department of Corrections provided about 20 inmates from local halfway houses to clear snow from crosswalks, bus stops and sidewalks around the city. The inmates earned $7.50 an hour.

The program is intended to prepare the inmates for reintegration into the community, while chipping in on work the city needs.

“Work details are a component of the department's restorative justice program in which offenders are required to give back to the community in which they have committed offenses,” Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michon Parker wrote in an e-mail.

The arrangement began in 2008, she said. Under the agreement, the District Department of Transportation pays the inmates and the wages of two supervisory correctional officers per work crew. DDOT also provides shovels, transportation and meals.

The crews are made up of inmates convicted of misdemeanors such as trespassing, vandalism or public intoxication, Parker said. Occasionally, jail inmates awaiting trial are also included.

Parker declined to provide details on exactly where the two crews worked in the aftermath of the Dec. 18-19 storm.

The size of the snowfall — and the multiple-day cleanup — prompted DDOT to hire outside contractors to help plow local streets in addition to the inmate program. All told, the District spent $4 million of its $6.2 million snow removal budget.

The inmate program represented $15,000 of the total cost, said DDOT spokeswoman Karyn Le Blanc.

The District's unemployment rate has topped 11 percent since August, the first time in more than 26 years. At $7.50 an hour, the inmates earn less than the city's minimum wage of $8.25 per hour.

The D.C. inmates weren't the only ones put to work during the storm. Some 250 Maryland inmates helped clear snow from Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium so the Ravens could play the Chicago Bears the day after the snow dump, according to the Associated Press.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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