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Corner Loafers, Litter & Blight – John Reed

Corner Loafers, Litter & Blight
One of my favorite features in this paper is the snippets from past editions. One hundred years ago, there was concern voiced by housewives living in the country that their “city sisters” weren’t doing enough to support the war effort (World War I). The suggestion was made to send their house staffs and “corner loafers” to the farms to help do the work the absent soldiering men weren’t around to do.
It’s still a great idea. We still have our share of idlers, not just in town, but all over the county. And I still love that label. Fast forward a century to current challenges.
My Fearless Leader pointed out last week how bad the litter situation has become; I’ve written about this as well in previous columns. Some of the trash is on public rights-of-way, but even more sits in yards and fields of private property.
The private property problem can be attacked with the passage — and rigorous enforcement — of “blight” laws. These require landowners to clean up theirs places, or face fines or even loss of ownership through condemnation. Like speeding laws, these would be politically risky and unpopular for those who were singled out. But their neighbors would appreciate not looking at heaps of garbage next door every day.
For public clean-ups, we have a ready-made workforce that us older folks used to see a lot more often decades ago. There are plenty of physically capable folks sitting in our local jails who owe a debt to society. There’s nothing wrong in letting some of them work off some of that debt cleaning our roadsides…especially if they’ll do it BEFORE the mowers make their bimonthly run.
Of course, even using prisoners costs money. Since it runs taxpayers more than $50 per day to keep even one prisoner in jail, I’d suggest the following deal. Trade out time working outside for building up some amount of early release. If we have to pay $25 per day to use a prisoner outside the jail, credit him with a day earlier release: we just saved $25 for that day we don’t have to keep him.
Obviously, easier said than done. Trailer park owners or absentee landlords may dig in their heels rather than clean up their properties. Only certain prisoners are safe enough to put to work. Naturally the lawyers will horn in on all sides to get their hands in the pot. Politicos will need to grow an imagination and a spine.
Beyond the aesthetics, clean, well-maintained roadsides and properties are a barrier to crime. I’ve written before of the success of the “broken windows” policing policy that made a huge difference in New York. With drug arrests reported here nearly weekly, anything we can do to discourage homemade meth labs and the like is worth a shot.

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