In just one year, the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office saved the county over one million dollars by using inmate labor for countywide litter pickup, graffiti removal, blight abatement, bus stop maintenance, and overall beautification. The dollar savings is based on what Fairfax County would have paid its own employees to perform the necessary landscaping services.
Eight deputies-six permanent and two floaters-are assigned to the Community Labor Force, which oversees about 40 inmates. On a typical day, half of the inmates go out, with no more than five inmates per deputy.
The CLF maintains approximately 250 acres in 40 different county-owned locations, including fire stations, police stations, the judicial complex and governmental centers. At least 19 times per growing season, the CLF mows and trims. In addition, they edge, weed, mulch, pick up litter and inspect plants and trees for diseases and bag worm infestations. They also remove diseased, dying and dead trees where safely possible.
In 1998, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created five Commercial Revitalization Districts to encourage and facilitate the renewal of older, highly trafficked commercial and residential areas. The CLF is a partner in the revitalization initiative, explains Sgt. Matthew Ware, the CLF supervisor. “Our agreement calls for us to visit the CRDs four times during the growing season to help keep them free of graffiti and litter and to weed, mow and edge,” says Ware. “Of course pride had us out there 8 to 12 times a year.”
The CLF maintains over 200 bus stops and shelters. Depending on the level of service needed at each shelter, the CLF provides one to three trash pickups per week, a monthly power washing and inspection report, and a refurbishing (sand, prime, paint) if necessary. The CLF picks up litter within a 25 foot radius of the bus stop or shelter.
What effect does the CLF program have on inmates? “In a word,” says Ware, “they are grateful. All of these inmates are hard workers and love being out in the community doing something productive,” says Ware. “Rather than complain, they often ask for more work. Sometimes they even thank us for allowing them to be in the program.”
Ware has only positive things to say about the work ethic and accomplishments of the deputies who head the CLF teams. He cites the example of how the teams transformed the Fairfax County Government Center Complex parking lots and lawns into fairgrounds for the three-day Celebrate Fairfax fair. On that summer weekend, the heat index topped 100 degrees. At the conclusion of the fair, the CLF broke down everything so thoroughly and efficiently that it “left a person to wonder if there actually had been a fair,” boasts Ware.
Even on the hottest-or coldest-of days the feedback makes their efforts worthwhile. Ware says, “It’s truly a great feeling when a member of the community approaches us just to say, ‘I think you guys are doing a terrific job here.'”