It isn't as if the District of Columbia had imposed a state of peonage on ex-convicts, but some paroled felons from Lorton Reformatory decided they were unhappy in their work and walked off jobs provided them by the city as part of their tickets to freedom. They did so, apparently, to draw up a list of conditions for staying on these 12-week jobs. Their demands included everything from higher pay, health coverage and sick leave to exemption from highway work during rain or snow.

It's too much. These were not exactly rock- pounding road gangs. And, although this is not a pure collective bargaining situation, nobody in authority was refusing to consider minor changes in the parolees' working conditions. If it's merely a matter of supplying proper work tools, boots, gloves and goggles, there's no problem. But if these particular complainants aren't ready for the sort of work created specifically for them, why force the issue? Take them off the rolls and give them their old "jobs" back -- at Lorton. In fact, some paroles have been revoked.

Surely there are other men inside Lorton who are eligible for parole and who must have work to be released. These are the very people the new city jobs were meant to assist, and they would presumably be happy to pick up where the "strikers" left off. This particular program was not intended as a career ladder. The salaries are minimum wage paid out of the corrections department budget, and the work is not meant to compete with jobs for those who have not broken the law. The hope is that these temporary jobs might lead on to positions with private employers.

The success of this experiment rests with the work records of those who participate in it. Those who walked off threaten a program that could do some good for others.