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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 12, 2012

Prisoners clean Preston Hollow park
By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Preston Hollow reaped the benefits of the county’s initiative to put prisoners to work when, last week, a group of inmates helped clean the debris out of Bayard Elsbree Memorial Park, which was heavily damaged by Tropical Storm Irene last August.

“When the flood came, there was a lot of debris,” said Gerald Wood, the town’s critical incident officer and a member of Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance. “Trees, brush, they cleaned that up; raked up the picnic area; and we got the picnic tables cleaned up and got them set back out. They went through the field, picked up all the stone, and they picked up all the fencing that lay along the creek.”

This was the second time a group of inmates helped with flood cleanup in town. Wood thought they did such a good job last time that he reached out to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office to see if he could bring them back.

“These guys were super,” Wood said of the prisoners. “I’d recommend them to any non-profit organization that needs someone to help. Very easy to talk to, and very easy to work with. You tell them to do something, and there’s no backlash.”

One of the inmates that helped clean the park last week was Edward Zinzow, who called the inmate work program “outstanding.” He had volunteered to take part.

“I just thought it would be a good way to do my time: go out to different places, work, and get gratification out of helping somebody else,” Zinzow told The Enterprise Tuesday. “It saves them money, and it takes the burden of labor off of them, and I have no problem with that because I’m a motivated person.”

A machine operator, Zinzow is originally from Ravena. He was sentenced to prison for violating probation, after being charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. He will be released on June 18, eight months into his one-year sentence.

Who can work?

Sheriff Craig Apple said that the county is selective about which inmates are allowed to work outside of the jail, though they are always under armed guard while they work.

“You have to be sentenced to Albany County time, meaning your sentence is no more than 12 months,” Apple said, listing the criteria for participating in the program. “Once you’re sentenced to Albany County, we immediately start to look at if you’re a potential candidate. There’s a high recidivism rate in this county, and that’s something I’m working on lowering, but most of these people are familiar to us. If a certain person comes in that we’ve known for a few years, we’re going to grab him right off the bat.”

They also look at an inmate’s classification level, which measures the probability of an inmate behaving violently, based on the crime they’ve been imprisoned for.

“If you’re classified as level-4, you’re a violent individual, and your chances of working are slim,” said Apple. “If you’re level-3, you might be a problem, but there’s a chance you could be put to work. A Level-2 is usually a perfect candidate.”

Prisoners classified as level-1 are typically sick, disabled, or have some other condition that would make violent behavior highly unlikely, or even difficult for them. Likewise, they are typically unable to work.

Anyone imprisoned for a felony would be “problematic,” Apple went on.

“DWIs; petty larceny; low-level drugs arrests; maybe order-of-protection violations — charges like that are fine,” he said. “If they’ve talked about an escape, or we’ve found an excessive amount of sheets in their cell, or any sort of manipulative behavior, they probably can’t work. Some people will stockpile bedding and, at night, they’ll slowly rip the bedding into strips, and they braid it, and it’s as strong as a rope, and they can use that rope to try and get over a fence, or something like that. Or, sometimes, they’ll take their own life.”

Apple added that there are about 40 inmates working inside the jail itself every day, cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, painting, or removing weeds outside.

“We privatized our food,” said Apple. “Aramark is our vendor, and they do the Times Union Center; they do football stadiums. They have a couple of employees in the jail, and we supplement their employees with inmates. If things work out, maybe we can get you a job at the Times Union Center or one of the other Aramark places locally when you get out.”

“A long way to go”

Meanwhile, in Preston Hollow, Wood says that they have “a long way to go” before things are back to normal, as the town still has to repair the picnic area and the baseball field.

“The ball field is totally gone, so we’ve got to start from scratch there, said Wood. “Once we get started on the grading, and get the fence back in, I’m going to put in a request again for the inmates to work on the field.”

Zinzow said that, if the town got back to work in Preston Hollow before he were released from prison, he would volunteer his services again.

“I asked the gentleman if I could come back because I enjoyed it so much,” Zinzow said, referring to Wood. “They told us how they’re going to redo the baseball field. When that time comes, I’d like to be a part of that.”

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