Inmates tackle neglected cemeteries

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County Prison inmates, after they finished mowing and trimming at Oak Ridge Cemetery, have moved on to handling the same kind of work at Fairview Cemetery.

“We’re about half way done,” Prison Warden Abbie Tate told the Blair County Prison Board as she handed out pictures of the freshly mowed grass around headstones marking the final resting place of loved ones.

“We’ve made eight trips so far,” she said. “And there were days when the lawn mowers didn’t stop for seven to eight hours.”

County Commissioner Ted Beam Jr., who chairs the prison board, has encouraged the prison and volunteer inmates to assist local residents in caring for neglected cemeteries during a year when the weather has led to excessive growth.

“At Fairview,” Tate said, “there were places where the weeds were almost as tall as I am.”

Tate said that three corrections officers — Matt Schmidt, Donny Lagesse and Dave McCulloch — have been assigned to cemetery duty with the inmates and together, they’re doing a great job.

“I think the inmates are enjoying every second of this,” Tate said.

People are noticing the difference, she added, referring to a church group that stopped at Oak Ridge Cemetery to help and said they could see the headstones.

In recognition of the achievement, prison board members spoke of directing the county parole office to consider the cemetery work as credit toward court-ordered community service hours. President Judge Elizabeth Doyle, who is on the prison board, said she would look into that.

Tate also asked about the option of a “good time” program, which could shorten an inmate’s sentence based on recognition of their community service. As used in other prisons, good time programs are described as early release options for inmates who have no rule violations and have tried to better themselves or their community.

To use that kind of option in Blair County, it might have to be restricted to county-sentenced inmates, Doyle said, and they’re a “narrow segment” of the county prison population.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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