Chippewa County brings inmates back to the highway for community service

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CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. (WEAU) - A community service project is giving volunteers a rare look at the great outdoors while putting tax payer money to work.

Chippewa County brought four inmates out to Highway 29 to clean the medians of trash left behind.

“It's like night and day, it's definitely a nice relief to be able to come out and get some fresh air and give back to the community,” inmate Kevin Tetzlaff said.

He and three others near Cadott volunteered to come clean up the median of Highway 29 Tuesday, a brighter way to spend the day than staying at their current home, the Chippewa County jail.

“I'm the outdoors type of person and it's a lot better than the alternative,” Mark Henning said.

The cleanup project started years ago, but stopped after a union disagreement. Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said changes in recent years and approval from the highway commission paved the way to put inmates back to work to clean highways.

“They get a little exercise, they get some fresh air, if they're not working, they get to get out, the same as they would with Huber privileges,” Kowalczyk said.

“With 200 bags of garbage this year alone, it makes for a more pleasant view for our motorists using Highway 29.”

The sheriff said low-level offenders were screened, signed a release and underwent a physical exam to ensure they can do the necessary work.

“At no time are they allowed on the shoulder of the highway, nor are they allowed to be on the highway itself or cross over onto the shoulders on the north and south side.”

Jackson County has a similar program, with even more opportunities, but a lack of staffing has kept Eau Claire County from doing the same kind of projects. The Dunn County Sheriff said he’s in talks with Menomonie city staff to bring an inmate cleanup project to the area.

La Crosse County doesn’t have a program because its sheriff said it doesn’t keep low-level offenders in its jail, opting for electronic monitoring instead. Barron and Trempealeau counties have inmates do maintenance projects on county property, according to their sheriffs.

The inmates said picking up cans and car parts is a chance to give back and look forward to doing more good when they're released.

“I've littered in the past, so I've totally picked up my share I think and then some and it just feels good to get out here,” inmate Mitchell LaBrec said.

“It gives me a lot of motivation to get out and stay clean and sober and do the right thing and get a job and be with my family.”

The sheriff said he plans to continue cleanup on Highways 29, 124 and on 53.

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