ST. CHARLES – Almost every day, people in bright yellow vests are scattered around St. Charles, tasked with picking up cigarette butts, pulling weeds or washing city-owned vehicles.
They’re part of the city’s Community Restitution program, which pairs people with court-ordered community service hours with various tasks around the city – some that otherwise wouldn’t get done, program coordinator Dan Orland said.
Since its inception nine years ago, more than 1,900 people have participated in the program. Orland said the program is available to nonviolent offenders who commit misdemeanors such as theft, possession, driving under the influence or driving on a revoked license. The program is open to anyone who lives in Kane County.
To date, the Community Restitution program has saved the city more than $2.1 million, as city workers or contractors would have to take on many of the tasks defendants are assigned to do. In October, the program saved an estimated $13,100.
It is administered by the St. Charles Police Department, and Deputy Chief Steve Huffman helps oversee the program. He said it’s not only beneficial in that it saves money, it also keeps people from having to sit in jail.
“It’s beneficial to the judicial system that’s already overcrowded,” he said. “It’s an alternative way for somebody to atone for their crime.”
Orland said those in the program help with various tasks, such as cleaning abandoned properties, clearing cobwebs from walkways and bridges, removing graffiti and helping set up or tear down for special events. He said people in the program are responsible for cleaning up 43 right-of-ways in the city.
“We also do weeding of all city-owned sidewalks. ... We collected 1,200 bags of weeds last year,” he said. “If the program wasn’t in place, that wouldn’t be getting done, either.”
Orland said St. Charles and Elgin are the only communities in Kane County that offer a city-run community restitution program. He said as many as six other municipalities have contacted him about setting one up, but budget constraints tend to keep them from getting off the ground.
“It can be a tremendous undertaking. You need cooperation at various levels – with the courts, the community and departments within the city,” Huffman said.
St. Charles has one full-time and one part-time program coordinator. Participants’ ages have ranged from 13 to 78, and some have needed to complete as few as 10 community service hours or as many as 600 hours.
Chris Adesso, public services manager with the St. Charles Public Works Department, said many tasks performed by those in the Community Restitution program would otherwise, need to be handled by department staff or private contractor.
“So a good example would be trash pickup,” he said. “Typically, if people involved in the program are not picking up trash, we’d either have city staff engage in that when we have other valuable work that needs to be done, or hire some temporary employee.”
Orland said many city departments and some nonprofit organizations utilize the program, including the electric department, the meter department, the street department, Delnor Glen Assisted Living and Provena Pine View Care Center.
“We’re in high demand these days,” Orland said. “We kind of have our hands in everything.”