Sheriff’s Office Warns Against Inmate Road Cleaning Proposal

County supervisors have been looking for a way to get Loudoun’s roadsides and medians cleaned up and mowed more regularly for some time, but the sheriff’s office has said it will not be with an inmate work program.

Cleaning up litter and mowing grass along roads and in median strips is a responsibility of the Virginia Department of Transportation, but supervisors and residents have worried that the state does not mow often enough. According to VDOT, mowing happens two or three times a year. Many homeowners associations supplement that work with mowing of their own.

In May, the Board of Supervisors dedicated $130,000 for an additional mowing by VDOT contractors, expected sometime in spring of 2020.

Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) suggested also looking into putting inmates in the jail’s inmate work program on the job. According to law enforcement officers at a meeting with the county finance committee Tuesday, Sept. 9, inmates already do some other work for the county—including mowing in areas that are not heavily populated—but the sheriff’s office did not support the mowing idea, citing training, safety, and security issues along busy roadways.

“There’s a lot of concerns, many, and all the liability is on the sheriff’s department when something happens,” said Major Charles Richardson, who oversees the inmate work program. “First thing is, when you put five or six inmates alongside the road picking up trash or cutting, it’s going to impede traffic, people are going to see this, they’re going to see inmates in striped uniforms alongside the road in a line with a deputy with a weapon, and it doesn’t paint a very good picture.”

He said in the relatively uncontrolled and dangerous environment of a roadside or median, there are concerns both about controlling the inmates and keeping them safe.

However, Richardson raised another possibility—offering that work to inmates in the county’s work release program.

“We’ve got work-release inmates that could use jobs—maybe the county can hire them on a temporary basis to do those jobs, and those inmates don’t have to be supervised,” Richardson suggested.

Supervisors welcomed that idea.

“It covers a lot of things at one time,” Randall said. “I think that this conversation’s not over. I think that there’s other things we can think of to get where we want to go.”

Supervisors took no formal action, but committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) suggested the county Department of General Services look into hiring work-release inmates, something the department does not need supervisors’ direction to do. General Services Director Ernie Brown said the department would work with the Department of Human Resources and the sheriff’s office to explore the possibilities of hiring work-release inmates, and not just for mowing.

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