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Prison inmates may fill Westmoreland County job spots

| Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Community service projects for inmates at Westmoreland County Prison could begin later this year to replace laborers from the State Correctional Institution at Greensburg, which will close by June 30.

Prison board members on Monday told Warden John Walton to begin drafting a policy to take volunteer inmate workers throughout the county to assist nonprofit groups with physical labor.

“I'd like to see us involved. It will be good for the county,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said.

State officials said inmates at the state prison in Hempfield performed more than 19,000 hours of volunteer labor last year. Three crews of up to 10 inmates worked at Overly's Country Christmas, the Mt. Pleasant Glass Festival and the Youngwood Railroad Museum, among other locations.

Billie Heide, deputy superintendent at SCI Greensburg, who oversaw the community work program, said inmates also collected trash, planted flowers along highways, and painted and did maintenance at churches and local ball fields.

“We've never had (anyone) walk away. We've never had an escape,” Heide told the prison board.

Walton said the county likely could provide only one crew for local community works.

Walton said he will start planning a program that will identify nonviolent inmates for work outside the prison.

About 26 other county jails in Pennsylvania provide inmate labor for nonprofits, Walton said.

“We have a lot of institutional knowledge out there. We're not starting from scratch,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said.

State inmates still could be utilized for some projects, Heide said.

She told the prison board that state inmates can work on projects within 50 miles from where they are incarcerated. Heide said state inmates housed in Pittsburgh, Fayette, Somerset and Indiana counties could be used for jobs in Westmoreland County.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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