Inmates Help Tear Down House of Correction, Earn Professional Certifications
03/14/2013
Baltimore Sun - Online

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While Travis Baldwin is incarcerated at Jessup Correctional Institution, he's learning how to safely remove asbestos from contaminated buildings by working next door at the now-shuttered Maryland House of Correction.

Baldwin, a mechanic by trade, is one of about 160 inmates who will help tear down the closed prison and will be certified to perform a handful of construction and contracting tasks in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., when released.

"It's something we can take with us when we get out," said Baldwin, who is serving time for burglary and assault.

The House of Correction, built in the 1800s, was once home to some of the state's most violent offenders. The state shuttered the maximum-security prison in 2007 amid safety concerns after a rash of violence in 2006, including the murder of a correctional officer.

Now, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is having inmates work with the contractor's crew to deconstruct the building a process that is saving the state millions of dollars and equipping inmates with marketable skills, according to department officials.

On Thursday, 10 inmates gathered in the brick building and practiced for their asbestos removal certification test, under the supervision of Dave Truman with Aerosol Monitoring and Analysis Inc.

The inmates volunteered for the deconstruction and were selected based on criteria such as physical ability and their expected release dates from prison, said John Wolfe, warden of Jessup Correctional Institution.

In addition to earning professional certifications, there are other incentives for prisoners to take part in the project: The inmates are getting time taken off their sentences and will make $2.50 a day tearing down the facility, more than double what they'd earn working other prison jobs.

Gary Hornbaker, the last warden at the House of Correction who is serving as project manager, said the work should not pose health risks to the inmates if they follow training. The inmates had physicals before starting the project, and they'll have pulmonary function check-ups in years to come to check for asbestos exposure, he said.

Some facility deconstruction began in 2011, but the bulk of the work is expected to be completed in 18 months, ending September 2014, Hornbaker said. Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the state hasn't decided what the site will be used for after the prison is taken down.

On Thursday, the inmates worked in a mock asbestos site set up in the administration wing of the House of Correction where they pretended the ceiling tiles were full of asbestos. The men secured sheets of plastic to the walls from floor to ceiling, using a spray adhesive followed by duct tape to contain the "contaminated" area. Later that afternoon, they planned to remove the ceiling tiles, wash them with soap and water, and seal them in bags so they could dispose of them.

In preparation for an eight-hour day of work, Antonio Edison had fashioned kneepads by wrapping duct tape around rags placed over his jeans.

"Sometimes that's how you improvise in the field," he said with a laugh.

Edison has his asbestos abatement certification and was employed removing asbestos from schools and military bases before he was imprisoned on robbery charges. For him, participating in the project is about helping his fellow inmates learn what to expect once they encounter an asbestos-filled environment, he said.

Goddard Simmons, an inmate who is serving time for DUI charges, has a background in construction concrete, roofing and heavy equipment. He said working with asbestos is new to him, but he's enjoying it.

He took a lead abatement certification test as part of the deconstruction project and scored 90 percent. His asbestos removal certification test is Friday.

"I plan on getting a hundred on that," he said.