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But both were thinking about the inner city kids who would benefit from their efforts. Since Monday, nearly 60 criminal offenders have gone to the camp to clear brush, fix picnic tables, rake, plant gardens and prepare lunch.

It was doubtful whether the 300 acre camp in Hebron and Andover would open July 6 after questionable spending practices kept its gates closed last year to the disadvantaged Hartford kids it is designed to serve. The camp is run by the nonprofit Hartford Neighborhood Center.

But then a chance meeting brightened its outlook. The center’s acting director, Lynn Ford, bumped into her neighbor, Eric Crawford, in the laundry room at Park Place Towers in Hartford a few weeks ago. They began talking about the camp’s problems. When Crawford who organizes community service crews composed of people placed in youth, adult or substance abuse programs as an alternative to incarceration learned of the camp’s plight, he made a phone call.

The result? Work crews from all over the state descended on Camp Hi Hoti this week.

There are 20 private and not for profit agencies that are part of a $52 million taxpayer funded program administered through the state Office of Alternative Sanctions of the Judicial Branch. Organizers say the programs provide treatment for offenders while freeing space in prisons for violent criminals to serve more of their sentences.

Crawford is the director of the Hartford based Community Partners in Action Substance Abuse Program. It runs a residential center where offenders are required to live for about four months while they participate in training, support groups and community service projects. The work takes crews to state parks for cleanup, to help Connecticut Special Olympics’ athletes and to parks to build playscapes, among other projects.

We take the guys who are motivated and want to help themselves,” Crawford said. Most of them are from the ‘hood.”

The majority of those in the program have been arrested for assault or drug charges, he said.

For every five offenders working at Camp Hi Hoti this week, there was one counselor watching and working alongside them.

Williams, who has already served 10 months in jail, locked in his cell for 22 hours each day, has been living at a Hartford center for the past two months.

Velez, 18, seemed pleased to be outside. Not too long ago, she said, she drove the getaway car during a robbery of a Hartford residence that yielded $6,000 in cash. Velez said she spent her share of the money on a gold ring, Timberland boots, Tommy Hilfiger clothes and marijuana. Since she turned herself in, she said, she’s spent her days at the Day Incarceration Center in Hartford. At night she goes home, where she’s restricted by an ankle security device.

About 35 percent of the people in the alternative incarceration programs don’t complete them, so they are returned to jail, said James W. Greene, deputy director, field services of the sanctions office.
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