SWAP offers work alternative to jail time

DIXMOOR, Ill. (WLS) -- In south suburban Dixmoor, abandoned buildings are being boarded up as part of a Cook County Sheriff's Department program aimed at keeping neighborhoods clean and helping participants improve their lives.

"These abandoned houses have always been magnets for criminal activity, whether it's drug activity or sexual assaults go on in them frequently. So they are horrible places that need to be addressed and some towns and villages don't have the resources, so we are supplying it," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.

Under the pilot program SWAP, which stands for Sheriff's Work Alternative Program, crews board up or tear down buildings, and help rehab others. SWAP is a sentencing alternative to incarceration for non-violent misdemeanor and traffic offenders.

"All the different people involved in this program would traditionally be sitting in jail cells. Instead, I was adamant that we need them to give back to the community. Let's get them out and let's do it in a thoughtful way. It's not just about having them picking up garbage on the highway, let's have them targeting areas that by doing that, we can really have a large payback for the community," Sheriff Dart said.

All the materials are donated by local businesses and the labor is free.

"The Sheriff's Department has been able to come in and do things for us they we weren't able to do before. We were able to close down some properties and tear down some properties that we weren't able to do before because we didn't have the money," Dixmoor official Tui Muse said.

The people in the program are learning construction and demolition skills that can be transferable later on.

"Instead of me being incarcerated for the DUI that I got, I could redeem myself and help out the community," Joe Rodriguez, SWAP participant, said.

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