Jail program brings offenders to school
Hope — A program through the Knox County Jail allows first time operating under the influence offenders a chance to give back to the community, rather than serving their sentence sitting in a jail cell.
At the same time, the program benefits the local schools as the offenders paint classroom walls, clean and scrub kitchens and wax floors, move furniture and more.
The alternative sentencing program, Knox County O.U.I. Program, first began in the early 1980s and is overseen by Lt. Cynthia Gardner of the Knox County Jail.
Typically first time OUI offenders are sentenced to 72 hours, but with this program the offenders are given the opportunity to serve 48 hours at the school, she said. The program participants eat, sleep and stay at the school from 5 p.m. Friday to 5 p.m. Sunday.
"Hope school has been the faithful one for the last, say, five years," Gardner said.
The program will take place at Hope Elementary School June 29 to July 1 this year and the school campus will be closed during that time.
Hope school Principal Carol Hathorne said the program has been "a real godsend" because the school only employs one custodian during the summer. She said it would be impossible for that one person to get all the work done on their own.
The principal said the work the group accomplishes during that one weekend is amazing — everything from stripping and painting picnic tables, weeding the gardens, painting and cleaning.
"The work has been very good and we are very pleased, hence why we want to continue the relationship with them," Hathorne said.
In the past, other schools have participated in the program, but Gardner said in the last few years Hope Elementary School is the only school to continuously be connected to the program. It is open to any school in Knox County and in prior years, St. George School, Thomaston Grammar School, former Georges Valley High School in Thomaston, former Rockland District High School and Midcoast School of Technology have participated.
Gardner said the program used to run every three months but in recent years the schools have been so busy with other programs it was hard to find weekends during the school year that worked, since no one else is allowed to be on school property while the program is taking place. So now the program is organized for a summer weekend.
For a school to be eligible, it must be have a fire inspection, Department of Corrections inspections, a kitchen with a Department of Health and Human Services approved license and must have showers, Gardner said.
On average, between 15 and 25 people participate in the program and Friday night there is a speaker, usually a substance abuse counselor. Saturday is a full work day with three meals served and that evening is spent listening to speakers from Alcoholics Anonymous. Sunday is another full work day with two meals served.
"We're not there to tell people they have a problem [with alcohol]," Gardner said, but noted often times at the end of the program, some participants do realize they may need help and seek it out on their own.
The participants are there on trust and are told on Friday night that if they cannot behave or have an attitude, they will be sent back to jail.
Gardner noted on one occasion a man brought a six pack of beer to the program and began drinking while performing his tasks. He was removed from the program. She said now the participants are told on Friday night that if they have any alcohol to put it on the table before it is found during a search.
"Each program is a learning experience and you take it that they're trustworthy," she said.
Gardner said she is always amazed at the friendships made during the weekend. Noting on Friday night they come in and are very rigid and not saying much to one another and by Sunday they are exchanging email addresses and phone numbers. Some even talk to one another about needing to go to A.A.
"It really does fascinate me how they come together," she said.
Other schools that would like to be involved in the Knox County O.U.I. Program can contact Gardner at 594-0432 ext. 126.
Courier Publications reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.