Not easy to qualify
Not every inmate qualifies to serve on the work crew, not by a long shot. A careful screening process aims to make sure local residents aren’t endangered by the prisoners on the crew.
“If they’ve done a violent crime, we don’t even look at them,” Tate points out, “or if they’ve committed a crime against children, child molestation, sexual assault, cruelty to children — not even a consideration. We won’t use any of them like that. We run a criminal history, and if it’s in their history that they’ve done something like that, we don’t even consider them. Sometimes it does get downright hard to try to find somebody that has not done something like that in their past; they may not have done it for 20 years, but you know, if they did it … So yeah, sometimes it gets a little hard to fill up the work crew, but we manage.”
Still, the annual report proves that enough inmates do qualify for the program to finish a lot of work over a year’s time.
“We’ve got three officers assigned to the work crews now,” Tate explains. “One generally has to stay here at the jail because we’ve got inmates working in the kitchen, inmates working in the laundry, inmates doing the mopping and the sweeping ...”
The other two officers generally are supervising crews that are usually working on projects away from the jail.
“If they don’t have any projects to work on,” Tate says, “then they’re out picking up trash on the side of the road. Sometimes both those crews are out picking up trash on the side of the road, but that hasn’t happened for a while because we’ve had so many different special projects going on that it’s taken both of them to keep it going.”
The crews have been especially helpful on big projects that the paid maintenance workers don’t always have time to get done because they’re too busy doing small jobs that need to be tackled immediately.
“Last year, we had some big jobs that had been lingering and needed to be fixed, but our regular maintenance guys were so busy doing all the little things that had to be done now, they couldn’t get to the big ones,” Tate says. “So we put our work crews to working with our maintenance people, and we ended up knocking out a bunch of the big projects over the winter.”