In what California Mayor Rich Green called a "win-win" arrangement, Tipton Correctional Center (TCC) inmates lent a hand to some city projects while placed in the community for a week-long work release period.
A group of 10 inmates — led by city department supervisors Tyler Dicus, Robert Pace and Victor Maurer — worked together with city workers to clean up a pair of house on Oak Street that Green described as a "blight," and about half the group also spent time taking down eight trees and mulching at Proctor Park.
A project like the home clean-up requires much more manpower than the city typically has, Green said, so the cooperative effort was a big help.
"We were able to get work done that normally would take us several months because the city's still short of manpower," Green said. "We got a lot done. Anytime that we can get that cooperation from (the Department of Corrections), I love it because it just really helps us having them to do some of that labor while we man the machinery and move forward."
The homes, located just past the main strip of businesses along Oak Street, were condemned in 2019 after previously being owned by a hoarder. Green said the city was finally able to purchase the properties from the former owner's heir, paving the way for clean-up work to begin.
"It looked like a jungle," Green said. "You literally couldn't see — three to five feet is all you could see in that lot, it had so much stuff. Between bricks, trash, collapsed buildings and trees, bushes, vines, you name it, it was in there."
The next steps, Green said, will be putting up barriers on the premises so the public doesn't try to enter the homes, and the city will also work on cleaning out the buildings' interiors.
Once that work is complete, the public will be able to bid on the properties, either to fix them up or tear them down and replace with new structures. Green said the hope is that there will be multiple bidders, something he said he is encouraged about since he's heard of a "lot of interest" from potential bidders.
The recent passage of an ordinance establishing guidelines for abandoned and neglected buildings will help to ensure something like this doesn't happen again, Green said, since it will allow the city to get to any properties with absentee owners before they fall to that level of disrepair.
This particular work release through TCC was part of a prison ministry led by Mike Staton, Green said. While the inmates were working in the community, area churches and the city partnered to provide meals.
"It's really a good program," Green said. "I commend the state and Tipton Correctional Center for allowing this to happen. It's good for the inmates, and it's good for us. I'll take them any time we can get them. I think people when they drive down Oak Street now are not going to be appalled when they drive by those two houses, and that's an important thing — for people visiting here and for the citizens of California."