EAST ST. LOUIS — For a little more than five hours Thursday morning, eight prisoners used rakes, shovels and brooms and cleaned up sticks, stones hypodermic needles and other debris from the outer perimeter of the Gross Street/Natalie Avenue scattered site public housing.
Wearing bright orange T-shirts and blue jail pants with a white stripe on both sides of the legs and using bright orange trash bags, the prisoners, raked and pulled weeds that were sticking out on the edges of the curb.
They used rakes to pull visible debris from weeds and used a push broom to sweep the debris into piles that they picked up and stuffed into the trash bags and sat them beside the trash receptacles that were nearby. The once trash strewn streets, were clean from one end of the street to another on Gross, Natalie, Exchange and Morris.
The city provided lunch for the prisoners.
U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton said the program has two goals -- to help the city with it's cleanup efforts and to allow the prisoners to help the community as part of their re-entry process.
"Nearly every person who is in prison, will at some time, return to our neighborhoods. We want to help them so they can be productive, law abiding citizens and programs like this help us in our re entry efforts," Wigginton said.
Terry Delaney, who works with the U.S. Attorney's office, said the program is a spin off of the "Ban and Bar" program in and around public housing.
The Ban and Bar program does not allow felons or parolees to visit public housing.
Delaney said the idea is to make public housing as safe as possible for the residents.
"In the past, public housing became a convenient, safe place for thugs, drug dealer, etc.," Delaney said.
Since the program started June 12, there have been 340 arrests, Delaney said.
And to take things a step farther for residents in public housing, Delaney said the U.S. Attorney's office partnered with the prison to help clean up the outer perimeters of the scattered site public housing.
Warden Ronald Vitale said the program is known as the Work Camp Program. The men who were selected to be a part of it had to pass certain criteria, including a stringent background check and the seriousness of their crimes.
"All of the guys have less than three years before they're ready to be released," Vitale said.
"They have rounded third base and are headed for home. They are in trusted status," Delaney said.
Along with the men was an armed security guard, Stacey Gardner, who pointed out what areas the men were cleaning and where they should place the debris they collected.
Vitale said the guys also pick up trash on the highway and help communities in the area. He said a crew used to go out once a day, but because cuts in the prison's staff and retirements, now they go out about twice a week.
Cortez Slack, chief of security for the East St. Louis Housing authority, said he was happy that the guys were able to help East St. Louis and the residents who live in public housing.
"They do make a big difference. When they come out and leave, you can see the fruits of their labor. They do an excellent job," he said.