Inmates work to offset costs

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From emptying trash cans to shoveling snow, inmates are kept busy during their stay at the Routt County Jail.

Using inmate labor saves taxpayers money and gives the inmates something to do while serving jail time, Routt County Sheriff John Warner said.

"The guys aren't sitting back there doing nothing. They have the opportunity, if they qualify, to benefit the community, to help offset some of the overhead costs," Warner said.

Every day, the inmates are used at the county jail, which also houses the sheriff's department, to empty trash cans, sweep and mop floors and clean restrooms and offices.

The jail workers also shovel snow in the winter, maintain sidewalks, do laundry, help in the kitchen, work on the yard in the summer and wash and maintain all the sheriff's office's vehicles.

The jail crews also are used throughout the county to pick up trash along county roads and U.S. Highway 40. The inmates are a significant help in preparing the Routt County Fairgrounds in August, Warner said. The inmates set up and take down the cages and stalls that are used during fair week, and they empty trash cans and clean the grounds.

Crews also are called out on special requests by other county departments and given jobs such as moving files from one building to another.

"If we had to hire people to do all that, it would cost taxpayers a substantial amount in salaries," Warner said about the work done by the jail inmates.

Not every inmate is put to work. The work program is volunteer and only available to those who do not have a history of violent crime and who have been sentenced. Of the 27 to 35 inmates the jail houses at one time, Warner said, about a half-dozen are part of the work program.

No special perks are provided for those who work, but many volunteer because it is an attractive alternative to the other limited options of things to do while in jail.

"Very few people ever refuse to do it," Warner said. "It is something to do instead of sitting and watching TV or reading a magazine or reading the paper."

In 2004, the jail's operational budget was $1.4 million. The cost of housing an inmate is between $50 and $55 per day.

In most cases, the judge will sentence those convicted to pay $42.50 a day for every day in jail. Sometimes, when inmates cannot afford that cost of care, the judge lowers the amount, Warner said.

For 2004, Warner predicts the jail will receive between $70,000 and $80,000 from inmates paying the cost of care.

Cable television and other extras in the jail, such as the exercise equipment, are covered through the concessions of candy and other items sold to inmates.

"We do everything we can to offset the cost of jail," Warner said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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