The Daily Northbridge
By Deborah Gauthier
NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – Seeing the Worcester County Sheriff’s van anywhere in town might once have been cause for alarm. Today the van is a symbol of something that is very right rather than wrong.
Having the van parked on Douglas Road beside Memorial Town Hall every day last week meant savings for the taxpayers and an incentive for non-violent non-sex offenders from the Worcester County House of Correction to continue on a path to recovery.
Sheriff Lew Evangelidis immediately saw the value of the of the Community Service program when he was elected to the office in November 2010, so he doubled the number of inmates participating.
The program saved taxpayers across the state $1.5 million last year. So far this year, Evangelidis said, the savings is $2 million.
Evangelidis stressed that only non-violent offenders are eligible to participate in the community service program, many of them close to the end of their confinement. Though he’s happy to provide the service to cities and towns in the commonwealth, his main goal is to help the inmates, most of them jailed, directly, or indirectly, because of their addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.
A crew of four worked in Northbridge last week, painting the iron fence around the town’s historic Memorial Town Hall and helping clear some of the debris on the grounds at the Department of Public Works on Fletcher Street.
One crew member, jailed for larceny, said he’s due to be released in July. He is currently looking into substance abuse programs that will help him continue his recovery from the addiction that ultimately put him behind bars.
“Programs that keep you away from those choices is the best chance you’ve got,’’ Evangelidis said to the young man, who will be living with his parents when he is freed.
The House of Corrections has a “discipline approach’’ to the addiction issues of inmates. “We can do better,’’ Evangelidis said, “and this program is a big part of that.’’
Town Hall maintenance comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Works, and DPW Director James Shuris said he appreciates the help the town received from the inmates.
The week-long project completed Friday saved Northbridge taxpayers about $15,000 in savings, Evangelidis said.
“The Inmate Community Service Program has provided a true win-win for the Town of Northbridge and for the Sheriff’s Department. With local communities continuing to struggle during these tough fiscal times, our inmate work crews are able to complete many worthy projects throughout the Blackstone Valley… at little or no cost resulting in a significant savings for taxpayers while inmates who are selected for the program appreciate the opportunity of a productive days work.”
“This is a tremendous program which has provided a great benefit and substantial cost savings to our community,” Shuris said. “All it cost us is food and drink.’’
For more information on the Sheriff’s Inmate Community Service Program contact the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office at 508-854-1938 or visit www.worcestercountysheriff.com.