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State work crew contract approved for county's parks department

The Dakota County Parks Department will continue to use minimum-security prison inmates to provide park improvement for the next two years.

At its regular meeting last week, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners approved a two-year contract with the State of Minnesota for an Institution Community Work Crew (ICWC) from May 1, 2011 to April 30, 2013.

The ICWC program puts minimum-security prison inmates to work for four eight-hour days per week in the community under the supervision of a state-employed crew leader. The program serves as vocational training for offenders while accomplishing labor-intensive public projects. The state, at its expense, provides transportation, general supervision, training and tools. The training includes chainsaw use and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fire training.

The county previously signed a two-year contract with the state in 2009. The proposed contact provides Dakota County the exclusive and efficient use of one 10-person crew for a two-year term at a total cost of $165,022 for the two years. This is the same amount as the previous contract.

According to the county, the use of ICWC effectively increases labor capacity to accomplish natural resources management needs within the parks system, including the removal of woody and invasive species, fire break construction and storm damage cleanup as well as general labor-intensive maintenance projects.

Dakota County Community Corrections has an in-house prison work crew similar to the ICWC, which in 2010 provided 50 days of services to the Parks Department at a cost of $21,268. The contract with the state does not affect the financial feasibility of the continued use of the Dakota County program in 2011.

Dakota County Corrections has several other programs in place, which allow the offenders to repair some of the harm caused by their crime while providing opportunities to learn job skills.

The programs include community work services where adult and juvenile offenses are ordered, by either the court or as part of a diversion program, to complete community work service; Restorative conferencing in which the program focuses on repairing harm by facilitating conferences in which victims, offenders and community members engage in resolving the consequences of the crime; Sentence to Service, which provides supervised work of non-violent offenders area nonprofit agencies and local government entities; and juvenile repay crew which provides supervised and structured work crew for juvenile offenses which have been court order to perform community work services to pay restitution to their victims.