Inmates sprung from jail to paint-out bridge graffiti

Why do Multnomah County Jail inmates volunteer to strenuous work, in difficult conditions in hot weather? Find out why convicted crooks offer to help clean up their community right here‚

A county jail inmate helps the community by painting out graffiti on the columns under the Ross Island Bridge.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Anyone who has been along the Springwater Trail has seen the graffiti on the pillars and abutments under the Ross Island Bridge‚ just down from the homeless refuge, “the caves”, under S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard in the Brooklyn neighborhood.

“Graffiti is a precursor to other crimes,” says Multnomah Count Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Lt. Jason Gates. “It invites other inappropriate activities. By leaving graffiti up, it sends the message that community will tolerate crime. And, it takes away from the livability of the area.”

By organizing a graffiti paint-out crew, Gates explains, “We’re trying to send a message to the people who are committing these crimes that we’re reclaiming this area; we’re taking it back from them.”

Inmate Dwight Golden and MCSO Sgt. Tina Breiten prepare to lower more buckets of paint down to the worksite.

Crooks serve community
The volunteers painting out graffiti at this particular June 26 project aren’t from the neighborhoods or schools. They’re convicted criminals.

We learn from MCSO Sgt. Tina Breiten that not all county convicts are satisfied sitting out their sentence in their cell. Some inmates, like Dwight Golden, prefer to volunteer for work details‚ even when tasks are in hot, dirty, and difficult conditions.

Coming up for more paint supplies, Golden tells us, “I like being out here in the sun and fresh air. Panting out graffiti is good. It makes it look nicer. I’m glad to be on this work program today.”

Multiple benefits from inmate work program
Only non-violent offenders, Sgt. Breiten confirms, are allowed on the work details. “It gives them the opportunity to pay back to the community. It allows them to prepare to transition back into the public. Some of our inmates need to learn the most basic of job skills‚ like getting up in the morning and going to work.”

After scrambling down the steep bank, inmate Golden is ready to take more supplies down to the cleanup site under the Ross Island Bridge.

Both “good time” and “work time” cuts down the non-violent offender’s sentence, says Breiten. “This system gives us the opportunity to free up some jail beds for the hardened, violent criminals that come into the jail system.”

Inmate work crew projects also help reduce tensions inside the jail, adds Breiten. “Doing physical labor helps inmates to ‘work out tensions’ that otherwise build up when they’re just sitting, day in and day out, in the jail. Instead of thinking about their next crime, they’re thinking about becoming productive in our community.”

ODOT partnership
Portland’s spokesman for Oregon Department of Transportation, Dave Thompson, arrives on-site and tells us how the MCSO inmate crews helps the state highway agency: “When we can use inmate crews, it helps the workers, and improves the community at the same time. This is a great use of taxpayer money.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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