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Bitter cold delays SD inmate shoveling service

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Bitter cold temperatures delayed inmates from shoveling snow for elderly or disabled homeowners in Sioux Falls, officials said.

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The "Scoop It" program uses minimum-security inmates to shovel snow for people who cannot do it because of physical limitations or cannot afford to pay someone to do it. The program is coordinated by local community resource agencies.

The Argus Leader reports that almost a half-foot of snow fell on Sioux Falls in early December, and elderly and disabled residents were snowed in for a week — including some who signed up for the free shoveling service.

Teams of five or six inmates and one officer are sent out to respond to residents' Scoop It calls. Every inmate is provided coveralls, a winter coat, gloves, a stocking hat and boots. But the South Dakota Department of Corrections follows a policy that stops outdoor activities when the wind chill reaches minus 18 degrees.

Typically, the shoveling is done within 48 hours, said Janet Kittams-Lalley, executive director of the Helpline Center, which handles Scoop It applications and fields the calls.

"This was a very unusual situation because we had several bitter cold days after the snowfall," she said. "It did take much longer than it normally does."

After a Dec. 4 storm, the Helpline Center received 81 calls from people needing their sidewalks and driveways shoveled. It took six days to get to every address on the list. For a few days, inmates didn't go out because of low temperatures and high winds.

The wind chill was pegged at about minus 20 degrees following the storm.

"It's a good program, but sometimes people take it for granted," Corrections spokesman Michael Winder said. "We have to keep those inmates safe."

City code requires all public sidewalks be cleared within 48 hours of a snow storm. As of mid-December, the city had 190 complaints about unshoveled sidewalks, and code enforcement officers issued 21 tickets.