Commissioners get update on work release program

Published 9:38 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2017

During a recent Troup County Board of Commissioner’s Work Session, the commissioners received an update on the inmate work release program.

The work release program is operated by the Troup County Sheriff’s Office and was created to replace the state work release program that went away when the state prison closed in Troup County at the end of June. Since that closure, new program has worked to fill the void left by the other, larger program.

“When we took over in July, we had only about 17 people in work release,” Sheriff James Woodruff said. “The high that we’ve had so far was 41 in work release.”

The sheriff hopes to be able to have 50 inmates in the program by the end of the year, which would put the program at its maximum number of inmates with current facilities.

The state program had roughly 300 workers, but officials report that work completed by inmates in that program was limited by state regulations. County officials are hopeful the final part of the transition will go smoothly. Many convenience centers that formerly used inmate labor will not be unmanned.

Part of the transition is asking local judges to keep minor offenders in the county for sentences instead of sending them to state prisons.

“We continue to work with the court system to get them to sentence in months rather than years,” Woodruff said. “If you have a felony, and you go before a judge, when you get sentenced in years, you have to go to the state prison system. If you get sentenced in months, you get to stay local and do your time here. So unless it is a violent offense or some kind of sexual offense, I would like to see those people stay here and do their time. That will benefit us with the things that we have to do with them, plus it would help their family. They won’t have to drive all over the state to visit them on the weekends to visit with their loved ones. It will be a benefit to them plus a benefit to us.”

Sentences can still be for the same length of time, but would need to be listed as 24 months instead of two years or 36 months instead of three years. The one downside of sentencing more inmates to the county jail instead of the state prison is that the county will be required to cover the cost of keeping those inmates in the county.

“If they do months instead of years, we have to absorb the cost of housing,” County Manager Tod Tentler said.

However, Woodruff said he still feels like having inmates serve the community during their sentence is the best option for everyone in the county.

“Work release is a win, win, win for everyone,” Woodruff said.

“For the inmate because he gets to send money home. For the county because they charge a little bit for them to be housed there. For the employer, for them to maintain a good employee, and for the employee to keep the good job that he has had 5, 10, 20 years.”

Inmates in the work release program also cover their own medical expenses, which saves the county money on what is often one of the larger expenses in housing inmates.