Work-release program at jail is ‘working well’

From shoveling snow to picking up litter, a little manual labor is better than the alternative for the work crews.

The program that allows inmates at the Warren County Jail to get out and do work is a win-win.

“The work group program continues to get out in the community,” Deputy Warden Gregory Deivert said at Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Warren County Prison Board. “It’s working well.”

The labor is available to non-profit and public entities. It is not meant to compete for paid positions. Only inmates who are work-release eligible and not deemed any kind of security threat may participate.

According to Deivert’s November report, the group provided “about 360 hours” of work for the month. “They did a ton of work,” he said.

Chief Clerk Pam Matve said she noticed the efforts of the work group one particularly snowy morning.

“They had all of the sidewalks (shoveled) by 7 a.m.,” she said.

“We’ve been getting a lot of positive comments,” Klakamp said. “There are some pretty darn good workers.”

“The couple I’ve spoken with said they would much rather be doing that” than passing their sentences in cells, Commissioner Chairman Stephen Vanco said.

“The inmates get out of jail during the day and do meaningful work instead of sitting on their bunks all day,” Deivert said.

On Thursday, four workers were helping Winterfest sled-dog Race Marshal Ed Atwood get Chapman State Park ready for the January event. They moved bleachers, erected a temporary addition to the Mushers Cafe pavilion, and performed other tasks.

Atwood said the Winterfest committee would struggle to find enough volunteers to pull the event together without the workers from the jail.

Despite the bitter cold, the workers were happy to be out working.

“I’m grateful to be able to get out and do something like this,” Mike Baker said. “It means a lot to me.”

“It’s a good thing for the inmates,” Joshua Lowery said. “It gets them out. It boosts their morale. It boosts their self-confidence knowing they can still work helping the community.”

“It’s been a nice program for us to be able to help the community,” Craig VanHook said. “Anything we can do. At the end of the day it feels good to be able to help people.”

In particular, he is grateful for the opportunity to play a role in making lasting memories for youngsters who attend Winterfest. “These are lifetime memories for the kids,” he said. “That’s what’s important.”

“This is something that they’re going to be able to enjoy,” Baker said.

The fourth member of the crew, who asked not to be identified, said many inmates have abilities that can be of use to the community. “A lot of us have a lot of skills,” he said.

He said community service hours that can be taken care of while an inmate is in jail are hours that are not taken away from his or her family after release.

He said the workers would appreciate more opportunities to work and invited groups looking for volunteer help to reach out to Deivert.

Atwood has more work including moving 4,000 pounds of sand bags and putting up about 2,000 feet of fencing.

“This is good stuff… productive,” Commissioner John Bortz said at Tuesday’s meeting.

He said the work can help inmates be ready to re-enter the work force when they are released.

The workers may use their hours toward community service sentences.

Workers who do not owe any community service can be paid for their efforts. That pay may be used at the jail commissary.

At $1 per day, the county is getting a lot of bang for its buck.

The work also helps qualify inmates for early release. That’s good for them and good for the county.

The jail has been consistently close to or over its capacity, according to Warden Ken Klakamp. The release of inmates who have earned it frees up space and eliminates the costs associated with housing them.

“We have saved hundreds of jail days since we started this program in September,” Deivert said. “They’re not in jail forever. We want it to be a more positive experience for them.”

“In turn the community benefits, and the inmates give back to the community,” Deivert said. “It is a form of restorative justice and one that we see as extremely beneficial to the citizens of Warren County.”

He said jail officials are looking to expand the program to provide job skills training. “We’d love to have somebody come in and teach these folks.”

Klakamp suggested interview preparation and advice would serve the inmates well.

“A lot of these people are missing a lot of those skills,” Commissioner John Eggleston said.

Klakamp said the county has had “no takers” to volunteer to teach such a class.

The commissioners said they could look into finding funds that could be used to pay stipends to those willing to teach.