Commissioners ready to study inmate work-release

By Karl Terry, PNT Managing Editor

Roosevelt County commissioners decided during Tuesday’s meeting that they are willing to consider re-instituting a prisoner work-release program at the Roosevelt County Detention Center.

County Attorney Randy Knudson brought the item to the agenda, saying he had been asked by employers about the possibility of having prisoners released to go to their jobs during the day and returned to the jail at night.

“I wanted to bring it to your attention that, historically, we’ve had a work-release program, but we don’t now,” Knudson told commissioners.

RCDC administrator Jesse Luera said the program was discontinued several years ago at the request of then-Sheriff Corky Newberry.
“The problem is, if you release an inmate out into the community, you’re still liable for what that inmate does,” Luera said.

Luera said that the process of checking inmates back into the jail each night and searching them for contraband would likely require more staff and new processes at the jail.

Commissioner Gene Creighton suggested that the answer could be charging the employer for the work release. Capt. Rick Short of the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office said when the program was in place, the inmate paid $10 per release day to participate to offset costs of the program.

Commission Chairman David Sanders said he had recently gotten a call from an employer begging him to start a work-release program because of the difficulty in finding workers.

Local contractor Don Heflin expressed a similar desire during the meeting.

“I really believe the work-release program is one of the best things you could have,” Heflin said. “As long as you have them sitting up there doing nothing, you’re going to have a problem.”

Heflin urged commissioners to give those prisoners who are responsible and especially those who have jobs they’re in danger of losing the chance to stay busy and earn income while they’re serving their sentence.

“We (commissioners) would like to see every one of them working, but we know that’s not feasible,” Sanders said.

Commissioner Dennis Lopez asked who would determine whether a prisoner could be eligible for release.

Knudson said it was likely that any of the parties involved, including the sheriff’s office, district attorney or jail administration, could veto the idea for reason but the final authority would be the judge.

Luera said he would come up with a plan to re-institute the program and report back to commissioners.

In other business, commissioners grudgingly approved a contract with Lea County to house juvenile prisoners in that county’s facility. Besides an increase from $95 to $120 a day, the contract also requires Roosevelt County to reserve the number of beds they will use and pay 90 percent of the regular rate even if they aren’t occupied.

Lopez was the only dissenting vote in the approval.