Illinois Sheriff uses inmates to tear down abandoned buildings

World Today

Even on a rainy day, a crew of ten inmates from the Cook County jail is at work demolishing a multi-unit townhouse south of Chicago in the village of Dixmoor. It’s arguably the most ambitious program in the in the country that has inmates tearing down abandoned buildings while teaching them some marketable skills. CCTV America’s Roza Kazan reported this story from Chicago.

Illinois Sheriff uses inmates to tear down abandoned buildings

Even on a rainy day, a crew of ten inmates from the Cook County jail is at work demolishing a multi-unit townhouse south of Chicago in the village of Dixmoor. It's arguably the most ambitious program in the in the country that has inmates tearing down abandoned buildings while teaching them some marketable skills. CCTV America's Roza Kazan reported this story from Chicago.

“We learn how to recycle and use and dispose of the stuff that we don’t need. Like that we’re recycling, putting this stuff in the dumpster,” Jose Gutierrez an inmate said.

Known as the Restoring Neighborhoods Workforce, the program is the brainchild of Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart who wanted to use county jail inmates to help communities dealing with problems that come with abandoned properties left in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis.

“I often felt how tragic it was that an individual was doing everything – playing by the rules, paying their taxes, taking care of their house and they are destined to live next to these horrific abandoned building that’s a magnet for crime, it’s horrible to look at,” Dart said.

While the economy and the housing market continue to recover, abandoned homes in the United States still attract crime and bring down property values.

There are currently 55,000 vacant properties in Cook County alone. Most of the time, they cannot be rebuilt or restored, and local governments often do not have the funds to take them down themselves. To tear down a home here in Dixmoor, says the Village President, would cost $5,000 to $10,000.

The sheriff’s program costs local taxpayers nothing. Inmates who qualify are typically non-violent offenders, and spend the first six months living, working, and training in a boot camp-style setting. They are also able to gain marketable skills for when they are done with their sentence, which will help them to get jobs later.

“When you have these boarded up homes, abandoned homes like that, the property value goes down, and that hinders us because they we don’t have people who want to move to our town because of the abandoned homes…It give us their resources to get rid of this,” Dorothy Armstrong, Dixmoor Mayor, said.

The program started last December. Inmates who qualify are typically non-violent offenders-first who spend six months living, working and training in a boot-camp style setting. They can then serve out their final eight months on electronic monitoring from home, but must either get jobs or return to work on demolitions.

“When they go out and they interview for a job, they can say – yes, I’ve done that, for the past 14 months, I’ve spent learning, and actually working on projects and actually learning these tools,” Willie Winters, director for the Neighborhood Restoration Workforce, said.

And for many inmates, the benefits don’t stop at job training.

“It’s a good sense of accomplishment, when you do things like these – you have people from the community that come up and tell you: good job, thank you, it gives you a sense of pride,” inmate Aaron Snyder said.

Follow Roza Kazan on Twitter @rozakazancctv