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Offender labor offers boost to communities

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By Vince Luecke

BRANCHVILLE - Labor provided by offenders at Branchville Correctional Facility supports communities across the county in ways sometimes not always visible to the public, members of the facility's advisory group learned during their last meeting.

Offenders approved for outside work details provide manpower for construction projects, mowing and trash removal throughout the year.

So far this year, offenders have picked up more than 1,200 large bags of trash along Interstate 64 between Evansville and New Albany and also removed rubbish along local state routes, Gil Peters, superintendent of the medium-security facility reported Aug. 28.

In Cannelton, offenders have helped build a shelter house at the county park overlooking the Cannelton Locks and Dam and assembled a playground at Cotton Mill Apartments. Offenders also provide help at the county's animal shelter and work in state parks, maintaining trails and trimming trees.

Special projects tackled by offenders have included setting up tables and chairs for Tell City's Schweizer Fest, weed control for the Tell City Housing Authority and 4-H fairgrounds in Perry and Spencer counties. Offenders respond during emergencies and helped fill sandbags after heavy rains this summer caused flooding in several Hoosier counties.

A less-visible service provided by offenders takes them to 14 rural cemeteries, which are mowed twice each year.

"That's a project where we do a tremendous amount of work many people don't see," Peters said.

Offenders sponsor fundraisers, many of them based on food sales, and much of the money is donated to community groups. Offenders also donate their talents to projects such as Tri Kappa's current sale of prints depicting local landmarks such as the covered bridge at Huffman Mill and county churches.

Offenders sketched some of the drawings.

Branchville staff also contribute to projects during the year, including Relay For Life and the facility's character-and-faith-based dormitory, whose residents are required to fulfill community-service requirements.

Offenders benefit from community donations, including books for a parenting program, Bibles and devotional items from local churches and used clothing offenders are given when they are released back into the community.