Collins expanding community service

Published 11:03 am Friday, May 15, 2009

Work or waste away in jail.

One area judge said Thursday he is expanding his community service program both as a way to help ease overcrowding at the Lawrence County Jail and to make those who break the law more productive members of society again.

Ironton Municipal Court Judge O. Clark Collins said he is doubling the size of his community service program from the current 18-20 and will have two work crews, one to handle responsibilities in the city of Ironton and a second to handle responsibilities throughout the county. More people sentenced for non-violent offenses will have the option of staying out of jail by performing community service. Additionally, those people who are sentenced to jail for non-violent offenses may have the chance to shorten their jail stays by joining those work crews.

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“If I get a good report, I will consider reducing their jail time, give them credit for their community service,” Collins said.

Collins said he and his staff have been mulling over what they could do to help alleviate the strain on an overcrowded jail and thought this might help.

“The sheriff has his hands full. I saw the other day where they had 80 some people in jail and we thought we could work on this,” Collins said.

The municipal court community service workers regularly maintain entrances and exits to the city of Ironton and the Ohio River front, help prepare and cleanup after large-scale events such as the Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade, Gus Macker basketball tournament and Rally on the River.

Workers also assist township trustees with cleanup projects, cutting grass along township roads and in cemeteries — a prime consideration since many townships have small budgets that would never allow trustees to hire people to perform this kind of work. The municipal court workers regularly cut grass and clean the Hanging Rock Cemetery. Hamilton Township Trustee Vic Hopper said if the township had to pay to have it done, it might cost $400- $500.

“It’s a big savings to us,” Hopper said. “They pick up trash on the road, too.”

Community service workers also pick up litter along roadways and regularly assist village of Coal Grove officials with their annual cleanup, care of the Paul Porter Park and preparation for and cleanup after the Coal Grove Family Fun Days and the Christmas display at the park.

“We’ve had this program 25 years and it’s been very successful at cutting costs and having people do positive things for the community,” Collins said. “I think it’s been a win-win situation for years now.”

Collins said while he does use electronically monitored home confinement as an alternative to sending some convicts to the county jail, he would rather have people sentenced in his court doing something productive for the community.