At least 10 paroled felons from Lorton Reformatory yesterday walked off the temporary city jobs that had made their paroles possible, complaining that the pay is too low and the working conditions too harsh.
The D.C. Department of Corrections has asked that parole be revoked for those men who left their jobs picking up trash along the city's highways, a department spokesman said. Parole revocation, which would mean the men would have to return to prison, is not automatic but would be up to the D.C. Parole Board, the spokesman said.
The group of 10 men refused to work yesterday, but they planned to return today with a list of "requests" for higher pay and better treatment, according to a spokesman for the group.
The District started its unusual "Step II" program a month ago to help relieve overcrowding in the city's prison system, hiring some hard-to-place inmates who were eligible for parole but who had to have jobs to be released.
A profile of the 43 inmates chosen for the 12-week program shows that 14 had served time for robbery or attempted robbery; 13 for drug violations; 10 for auto theft, grand larceny or receiving stolen property; nine for weapons offenses; eight for assault; seven for parole violations or escapes; three for second-degree burglary; and one for manslaughter. They had served between nine months and nine years in prison, according to the profile compiled by the city.
The parolees' requests will include base pay of $4.35 an hour -- up from the current minimum wage of $3.35 an hour -- plus additional pay from an existing city "dirty work" fund; proper work tools such as boots, gloves and goggles; 12 hours of sick leave for the 12-week period; health coverage; and exemption from highway work during rain or snow, the spokesman said.
"They want what's right, but they are also scared" because of the threat of parole revocation, said the Rev. Raymond Watson, a former Lorton inmate and founder of Senior Citizens of Today & Tomorrow (SCOTT). Watson is not directly involved with the program, but says his group has been asked to represent some of the men.
U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova called the walkout "impudent and outrageous conduct" on the part of the parolees, and said the D.C. Parole Board should act soon to revoke their parole.
"This silliness should not be tolerated," he said. "I can't believe they are converting this gift from society parole into a labor dispute."
City Administrator Thomas Downs said that some of those who originally left returned to work later, and that only six of 14 parolees at that job site were out all day.
Some of the men said that the parolee-hiring program is a "sham" that will not help them get better jobs in the community and that they cannot make ends meet on the $3.35-an-hour minimum wage.
"I'm quitting," said Rudolph Norris. "I'll get a job myself." In an earlier interview, Norris had said he was "giving 150 percent" on the job but was frustrated because city officials who were helping find jobs for parolees had not come through for him and gave the men no work benefits.
"I've got kids and bills, and $3.35 an hour just isn't hitting it," said program participant Stanley Hargrove. He said he had trained as an electrician at Lorton, and that "picking up trash doesn't teach me anything."
Rayvon Reid, who in an earlier interview had said things in the program were going smoothly, said he objected when the parolees were made to pull junk out of a creek but were not given proper boots to do the work. He said he had been trained as a heavy equipment operator.
Some of the men said they would try to find better jobs on their own to enable them to keep their parole.