The greening of Maryland

Our view: An ecological response to prison idleness

May 07, 2008

A tree grows in Hurlock. And while this is not a tale of lost innocence as recounted in a New York borough by novelist Betty Smith, self-improvement and redemption do figure in this account. Improving the world in which we live and giving back - that's how Maryland Public Safety Secretary Gary D. Maynard would describe his inmate-staffed conservation corps that is planting trees and seedlings across Maryland. At last count, they had planted about 11,567 trees, including 1,650 in Hurlock. With a recession brewing and insufficient job training in prison, Mr. Maynard is reinventing the roadside chain gang. It benefits prisoners and the environment.

Mr. Maynard's ambition is to plant a million trees -- joining a national effort to build America's tree canopy. Some of the maples, cherry trees and redbuds have been planted on prison property with the idea that seedlings, once they've matured, can be replanted elsewhere across the state. Exceptions include Hurlock, Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery and the Civil War battlefield at Antietam.

If idleness is the devil's workshop, the public safety chief sees his conservation corps as a worthy distraction. Tree planting isn't the only pursuit; an inmate crew helped clear an illegal trash dump in Curtis Bay.

This may be sweat equity with a green thumb, but with some help from the University of Maryland Extension Service, Mr. Maynard could develop job training programs in nursery care and horticulture.

These work crews are no substitute for job skills that can earn an ex-offender a living wage outside prison. But Mr. Maynard says he's working to increase those as well (we'll hold him to that). But until Maryland's prison system provides job training on demand, prisoners should be challenged to work in any way possible. Expanding Maryland's tree canopy should improve the outlook for inmates and the planet.

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