The D.C. Parole Board has decided not to revoke the parole of six men who walked off their city jobs one day last week after complaining about their working conditions.
The men spent nearly a week in the D.C. Jail because of the walk-off, after the D.C. Department of Corrections said they had violated the conditions of their parole and corrections officials requested the revocation of parole.
D.C. Parole Board Chairwoman Bernice Just said yesterday that the board decided to release the men from jail and to maintain their parole because "each of them recognized the inappropriateness of their behavior" and the board "felt they were no threat to the community."
Also, the city jobs were still there "waiting for them," Just said.
Parole revocation hearings were held Monday but were closed to the public. The men were back at work yesterday.
Mayor Marion Barry had announced the unusual parolee-hiring program in March to ease crowded conditions at the city's Lorton Reformatory. The plan was to hire 60 potential parolees who had not been able to find the jobs necessary for their release.
In the end, 43 were selected and assigned to different menial jobs at minimum wage for a 12-week transitional period, during which the men are supposed to get help finding permanent jobs.
On April 15, most of 16 men at one job site walked off their jobs picking up trash along highway I-295, saying that the $3.35-an-hour minimum wage pay was too low and that they were being asked to do the most difficult trash pickup work without proper equipment.
Some of the men returned to work later that day, and 15 of the 16 were back at work the next day. Six who had stayed off the job all day on April 15 were taken back into custody, pending the decision on their parole, but no action was taken against the others.
When they returned on April 16, the group asked that each man be given a written explanation of the rules of the program.
Asked if the men had been informed that walking off the city jobs would violate their parole, D.C. Corrections Department spokesman Leroy Anderson said "perhaps not in those words" but that it had been made clear that maintaining a job was a condition of parole.
"I'm not sure the men really know all the provisions of the program. I don't think they are totally aware yet," said the Rev. Raymond Watson, a former Lorton inmate and founder of Senior Citizens of Today and Tomorrow, which listened to the men's concerns.
Parole officers were responsible for briefing the men on the program, Anderson said.
Neither Just nor Anderson could say at what point the men's parole officers were informed of their concerns or their intention to leave the job site, but Just said their failure to discuss the issues with their parole officers "was part of the problem."
"There seems to have been a short-circuiting of procedures," Just said. "If they had had complaints, they should have made their parole officers aware of it."
Since the walk-off, officers have agreed with the legitimacy of at least one of the complaints, that the men did not have proper gear to work in swampy and dirty areas. The parolees have since been given work boots, gloves and dust masks, officials said.