Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Aug. 5, 2002

Minor offenders help in a major way

By Lynda Jensen

Devastated flood victims didn't have to look far for help when torrential rains overwhelmed the area June 25 ­ and help came from the most unusual places.

Friends, neighbors, and complete strangers picked up shovels to fill sand bags in the aftermath of the storm, especially during the week following the rains.

Among the so-called strangers were minor offenders from local county jails, working in a program called "Sentence to Service," said Wright County Crew Leader Brad Thompson.

Three crews from four different counties helped both the Waverly and Howard Lake areas with sand bagging and cleanup efforts, Wright, Meeker, and McLeod-Sibley.

It was probably fitting that the Wright County crew stayed the longest out of the three ­ working up to 15 hour days the week after the storm ­ since Wright is where the program first got its start in 1989, Thompson said.

The Meeker and McLeod-Sibley crews helped one day each, with Meeker spending the day in Howard Lake.

The Wright County crew started work June 26, and worked for a week; then returned last Tuesday to help cut open sand bags for the City of Waverly, Thompson said.

Their white van, with the crew of about nine to 10 people, was a sight for sore eyes driving along North Shore Drive in Waverly, where frantic home owners were trying to save their homes.

Kool-Aid, pop, and ice cream bars flowed freely that week, Thompson said, as grateful people showered the men with thanks.

"They were very appreciative," he commented of flood victims.

The Sentence to Service program is purely optional to minor offenders in counties that offer it, Thompson said.

Thompson's office is located in Buffalo, at the Minnesota Department of Corrections office.

Offenders are screened before they work, with only low-risk offenders being able to participate, he said.

Among the work done by Wright County Sentence to Service crews include splitting and bundling wood, construction and carpentry work, maintenance to county parks, raking, junk amnesty assistance, clean up public beaches, picking up trash, cutting and cleaning brush, helping with sheriff auctions, interior and exterior painting, weed spraying, laying sod, seeding grass, and many other kinds of projects.

Thompson was asked recently to have the crew help in the clean up of toxic substances, but declined for obvious reasons.

There are three ways to enter the program, he said.

The first is for jailed offenders who wish to reduce their jail time. For every three days worked under the program, jail time is reduced from three days to two, Thompson said.

The second option is if someone is sentenced to community service.

The third is for someone who is unemployed to pay a fine by receiving credit for days worked, Thompson said. No money is involved in the third option, since it is simply a way to credit the fine issued to the offender, he added.

The program is under an arrangement with both the state and county, Thompson said.

Because the program reduces jail sentences, it saves the county an average of $52 per night in board and lodging for offenders, Thompson said.

This amounted to $8,216 for April, May, and June this year. For this same period, 35 offenders participated in the program, working 2,768 hours.

The program is now used in 74 counties across the state.

For those interested in contacting Thompson, his number is (763) 682-1706.

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