In 1998, Clallam County Sheriff, with several other Clallam County officials and Department leaders, saw potential benefits of a $30,000 grant offered by the Washington State Department of Ecology to local Solid Waste planning authorities for community litter and dumpsite cleanup. The group proposed a unique partnership involving the multi-agency Solid Waste Advisory Committee, the County Road Department, and the Sheriff's Department in utilizing supervised voluntary minimum and medium security inmates from the Clallam County Corrections Facility in litter and illegal dumpsite cleanup, and performing limited road maintenance activities requiring manual labor.
Like most jails, Clallam County Corrections, a 96-bed rated facility, was experiencing overcrowding. The idea of allowing more inmates to participate in work programs during the busiest part of the day would help alleviate some of the problems associated with overcrowding and reduce inmate idleness and some of the strain placed on the facility's security resources.
The awarding of the Department of Ecology Community Litter Cleanup Program grant provided the impetus for the establishment of the Sheriff's Department Chain Gang Program. Contributions from the Sheriff's Department budget augmented by funding from the Clallam County Road Department provided the necessary resources, including hand tools and safety equipment for the program to begin. The City of Port Angeles, being the owner/operator of the local landfill, agreed to waive all tipping fees for litter and dumpsite material collected by the inmate team. The Clallam County PUD provided 2 Stihl gas-powered weed eaters and safety equipment for the team to weed eat around power poles and fire hydrants along County roadways. Local businesses provided boots, sweaters, hats, coats, and other supporting goods and services at cost. Or at substantially reduced rates for the program. Olympic Ambulance donated a used ambulance that was modified for use as a Chain Gang transport vehicle soon after the program was begun.
The Clallam County Sheriff's / Road Department Chain Gang program became operational in July of 1998, supervised by an experienced full-time armed Corrections Officer, and consisted of a crew of 5 leg-cuffed volunteer inmates. In its first year, 90,000 pounds of litter and dumpsite material were removed along Clallam County roadways. Road maintenance activities included weed eating around road signs, fire hydrants, guardrails, power poles, and telephone pedestal boxes. Additionally, noxious weeds such as scotch broom were targeted in County gravel pits, and cleaning of roadside culverts and drainage ditches to alleviate flooding initiated.
Overall Program operation and supervision of the Chain Gang Officers is conducted by Corrections Sergeant who has been with the Sheriff's Department since 1997, formerly a Chain Gang Officer from August 1999 to January 2003, and now Chain Gang Program Sergeant since January 2003.
Chain Gang Officers are responsible for planning, scheduling, and coordinating of daily activities for their work teams. To do this effectively the Officers must maintain communication with key personnel within the partnership. Since the majority of Chain Gang work is closely associated with the Road Department work priorities, seasonal activities, safety, and efficient use of the team resources and labor are discussed and reviewed with the local Road Maintenance Supervisors.
Weed eating is a high priority during the grass-growing season. Other types of activities include noxious weed removal, road shoulder contouring, grass seeding and hay mulching of roadside shoulders, cleaning dirt and debris from curbs and sidewalks, planting cuttings for erosion control, and painting guardrails, graffiti removal, hedge trimming, and landscaping. During the fall season the Chain Gang teams clean culverts, catch basin grates, and check and clear the flapper valves for flood control and the Dungeness River dikes. The teams fill and palletize sandbags for use during heavy rain, flooding, and for erosion control projects. The teams also rake leaves and remove brush on and alongside roadways to improve traffic visibility and safety.
The building and extension of the Olympic Discovery Trail is a high-priority project for the Chain Gang teams. They have cleared and built trail pulled and removed stumps and brush, wheelbarrowed, spread, raked, and compacted hundreds of yards of gravel, built bridges over streams and wetlands, and help to maintain and upkeep existing portions of the current trail system.
It did not take long for the initial principal partners, and the Clallam County Commissioners, to realize that the Chain Gang program was a good idea that could accomplish substantial and much-needed work for the County and the community. As a result, in September 1999 a second Chain Gang was added funded through the Clallam County Road Department and the Washington State Department of Ecology Community Litter Cleanup Program grant. Olympic Ambulance donated a second used ambulance retired from their fleet to be used as the Chain Gang transport vehicle.
In 2001 a $25,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology Community Litter Program Tools and Trucks fund was received and a low-mileage diesel-powered box ambulance was purchased and modified for Chain Gang program purposes. In 2002 a second $25,000 grant from the DOE Tools and Trucks fund was received to purchase and replace the second Chain Gang vehicle.