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Capper: Community service benefits all

Saving taxpayer's money and performing public service is what good government is all about, right?

If so, the

Lawrence County Municipal Court of Chesapeake’s Community Service Program typifies good government, said Municipal Court Judge Donald Capper.

The program saves the county money, keeps the jail population down, helps many community groups get some needed help, and it gives those working in the program a chance to do something positive, Capper said.

The judge has been in charge of the program for 15 years. Capper said the program was started by the Judge Charles Byrd.

The program began with one simple duty: the community service workers picked up trash, Capper said.

In recent years, that work has expanded. Today, the community service workers have about 97 sites at which they work.

"We’ve expanded it quite a bit," Capper said.

The work sites include working for the schools, mowing grass and working for the township trustees. Workers also work at the Lawrence County Fair and at community events, such as Burlington’s Concerned Citizens Clean-Up, and Operation TLC. They will also be at this weekend's River Sweep.

The program also keeps the jails from being overcrowded by reducing the jail population. The court has an opportunity to assign individuals who commit a misdemeanor to community service, instead of jail time.

"I’m always looking for an alternative way," he said.

The municipal court handles the entire eastern end of the county, and thousands of

cases go through the court each year - 8,140 cases in 2003.

"I think I’ve been fortunate, we have good people that work here in the court," Capper said. "Especially Carolyn Miller, she’s the key to the success we’ve had."

Miller is the community service coordinator at the court. Along with working with the court and the community service workers, Miller also works with federal probation officers and courts nationwide.

Both Miller and Capper work with the community service workers as well, most recently working along side them at the Burlington Clean-up.

"Sometimes it helps people to see that they can do this," Capper said. "It gives them a chance to do something positive."

The work also benefits those who cannot afford to pay a fine; they can sometimes work that fine off by doing community service.

So far this year, 206 defendants were assigned to the community service program to work 8,284 hours. Based upon the federal minimum wage per hour, the estimated savings to the county was $42,662.60. The actual savings to the county from not incarcerating the workers as prisoners is $62,130.15, Capper said.