EAGLE, Colorado - The Eagle County jail's work release program poured more than $104,000 back into the county's general fund last year.
That's not the program's goal, but it is a benefit, said District Court Judge Fred Gannett.
"Work release is a mechanism that can take someone whose history might be bad, but their life story is pretty typical," Gannett said. "It helps them stay ahead of the tsunami that comes with a criminal conviction."
Work release programs have been around since 1913 when they were introduced in Wisconsin, under a program written by Wisconsin state senator Henry Huber. An inmate who is sufficiently trusted and can be monitored, gets to leave jail to work a regular job. When the workday is done, they go back to jail where they spend the night.
"It's best for a someone to keep a job and meet their financial obligations as best they can, and continue to care for their wives, husbands, children, aging parents," Gannett said. "Hopefully it helps them maintain some sense of self-esteem and deal with the consequences of bad behavior."
The Eagle County Sheriff's Office runs the local work release program.
"It's a difficult program for the Sheriff's Office to administrate and requires additional staff and time. It would be easy for them to say 'No dice' and not do it," Gannett said.
"It's one of the most important tools to be placed at our disposal in the last 10 years. It's a seismic leap forward," Gannett said.
More than money
The Eagle County detention facility reimbursed $104,836.11 to the county's general fund, said Capt. Bill Kaufman with the Eagle County Sheriff's Office.
That doesn't cover the jail's $2.3 million budget, of course, but it puts some money back into the general fund and provides other benefits, Kaufman said.
"Inmates are not just sitting in here. When they're released they're sent back out with a work ethic, instead of getting out and committing more crime as a way to get by," Kaufman said.
Work release inmates also get time shaved from their sentences.
For every day they work, their sentence is reduced by an additional day.
The equation can be a bit convoluted, but that means if you're sentenced to 30 days in the work release program, you'll be free to go in 19 days.
Recycling for dollars
Not part of the work release program, but just as successful is prisoners working at the county landfill, Kaufman said.
Every day the jail sends as many as prisoners as possible, usually four or five, Kaufman said.
If the county's solid waste and recycling program doesn't have prisoners available, it hires temporary workers for $18.01 an hour, Kaufman said.
Figuring an eight-hour day at $18.01 an hour, Kaufman calculated the program save the county's taxpayers $154,021 in 2012.
It's usually for longer-term prisoners and shaves time off comes off the back of their sentences.
"It's the same deal as the work release program, work a day and get a day off the back the back of your sentence," Kaufman said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.