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Inmates put in DPW positions while crews work on foreclosures

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A new effort to deal with Milwaukee's blighted and rundown properties is opening up jobs for people recently released from prison.

The city of Milwaukee has many properties that have been foreclosed upon and abandoned. Some can be rehabilitated, but others are too far gone.

Demolition crews -- mainly with Milwaukee's Department of Public Works will be heading out to help do the job as part of the new budget -- just approved, and recently-released inmates are scheduled to help out with garbage pickup and other jobs while the demo crews are out.

Howard Harris has been on the job since April. Harris is one of 45 people working for Milwaukee's DPW on a temporary, fill-in basis.

"It means the world to me," Harris said. "I've been able to buy a car, get a new apartment, support my family."

Before, it was difficult for Harris to get a job because he was convicted of reckless homicide back in 1991.

"I was pretty much homeless," Harris said.

A year ago, the city of Milwaukee began a program with Wisconsin Community Services, which meant 45 ex-cons got a second chance in life, starting with a temporary job.

"There's a lot of individuals who, like myself have made mistakes such as myself, and Lord knows I have a lot of regrets -- but an opportunity like this comes once in a lifetime." Harris said. "For an individual who's really trying to change and do better and give back to the community that they once took from I think it's definitely a Godsend."

Now, the program that will put DPW crews on demolition duty for foreclosed homes means 20-30 seasonal workers are needed to fill jobs on garbage trucks, graffiti removal and the like.

The city plans to hire those like Harris, who have recently served their time in prison. They take a physical test, and are screened with extensive background checks.

"The guys we'll send down, mostly men will work on those trucks, get great experience and they can put on their resumes that they've worked for the city of Milwaukee," Clarence Johnson with Wisconsin Community Services said.

"It's been truly a blessing for me. Truly a blessing," Harris said.

The expansion of the program is part of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's new budget. The additional workers are expected to be on the streets by March or April.