Getting dirty to get out early

Mike Linn

A new program allowing Roosevelt County inmates to work off jail time is also promoting shrewd spending of taxpayer dollars, county officials say.
The voluntary program started on Monday and allows misdemeanor offenders to earn good time in jail for picking up trash, pulling weeds, trimming and mowing on county property.
The hours inmates contribute to working can then be used as “good time,” which can work to decrease jail time, according to Roosevelt County Magistrate Judge Jane Martin.
The less time an inmate is in jail, the fewer tax dollars are allocated to pay for the inmate’s housing. Taxpayers pay roughly $60 a day per inmate for basic jail expenses, according to Roosevelt County Sheriff Tom Gossett.
The inmates are paid minimum wage, but that money can only be used for fines related to their convictions, Gossett said.
In addition to saving taxpayer dollars, Gossett noted other benefits, including a clean community and an outlet for inmates who would otherwise be loafing around in their cells.
“This is a very positive program,” Gossett said. “I think the inmates need the opportunity to work if that’s what they want to do. They have been elated to go outside and get some fresh air.”
Gossett noted that only misdemeanor offenders are allowed to enter the work program, as felony offenders could be a threat to the community.
Additionally, the inmates work helps save money spent on cleaning projects.
“How much does it cost to hire people to clean the fairgrounds after the fair?” Gossett asked.
To jump start the program, the Roosevelt County Commission recently approved the hiring of a new county guard, whose main job is to watch over the inmates while they work, Gossett said.
His salary will be more than paid for with money saved through the program, Gossett said.
For Jail Administrator Jesse Luera the program helps decrease the problems that arise with a jail full of bored inmates.
“They appreciate the time outdoors,” Luera said. “By the time the day is done they are pretty much ready to eat and go to bed.”
For every hour an inmate works they can receive a maximum of one hour off of their jail time, Martin said.
Martin said every inmate’s good time will be looked at on a case-by-case basis and that she makes no promises to releasing inmates early.
Overall, Martin said she likes the program and its benefits.
“I think (it’s) an excellent plan,” she said. “It’s getting people who are serving a sentence out and allowing them to do something constructive instead of sitting in the detention center doing nothing.”