Parker County Jail Trustees Save the County Money
October 27, 2011
by Judy Sheridan, October 26, 2011 CNHI PARKER COUNTY — Driving through Parker County, jail trustees are a common sight, clearly visible in their bright orange shirts and striped pants…
Topics: inmate programs
by Judy Sheridan, October 26, 2011 CNHI
PARKER COUNTY — Driving through Parker County, jail trustees are a common sight, clearly visible in their bright orange shirts and striped pants as they paint, flag traffic, clear brush or work at the animal shelter.
Their efforts — mainly manual labor — amount to thousands of hours of free services for the county, and the savings is significant, according to Danie Huffman, deputy for the Parker County Sheriff’s Office.
“The sheriff’s office sends out 30 to 35 inmates per day,” she said, “and they work eight-hour days five days a week, except for the animal shelter, where they work six days.”
On average, Huffman confirmed, compensation for the inmates’ labor would range from $11 to $15 per hour.
The savings would be more than $600,000 per year in a scenario where 30 workers put in 240 eight-hour workdays at $11 per hour.
“I was thinking at least half a million,” Ron King, warden for the Parker County jail, said, “and they are paying back society instead of watching TV all day.”
Outside the Jail
King said that inmates chosen to work outside the jail have been convicted of lesser charges, such as a DWI, driving with a suspended license or driving without insurance.
“We don’t pick them if there is a history of assaultive or evasive behavior,” he said.
The inmates must prove themselves inside the jail first, he said, doing kitchen work or laundry service.
“They have to have a good attitude and be cleared medically,” he said.
The trustees — who are supervised by Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers’ certified jailers — have adequate working conditions, King said, and leave the jail with a packed lunch and a water jug.
“It’s far from the days of Cool Hand Luke, far from the chain gangs,” he joked.
If anyone is hurt, the county pays his or her medical expenses, King said.
“They have no health insurance,” he said, “occasionally there are some stitches; mostly it’s tetanus shots if somebody steps on a nail. A few have been bitten at the animal shelter.”
“It’s not usually an issue,” County Treasurer Jim Thorpe agreed, “and the value outweighs the costs.”
Thorpe said he did remember an incident where a trustee riding in the back of a flatbed truck chose a five-gallon bucket as a seat, an unwise decision.
“They turned a corner, and he fell out,” he said. “He had to be care flighted.”
On another occasion, Thorpe said, county employees sent an inmate crawling over a wall partition in the annex because a door was blocked.
The incident ended without an accident, Thorpe said, but not without a complaint.
“He said, ‘Hey, it’s dark in here. I’m in for DWI, not burglary,’” Thorpe said.
Trustees almost never try to escape while working outside the jail, King said, because the penalty for doing so can add five years to a prison sentence.
“It’s very rare,” King said. “In five years we’ve only had one out of thousands of inmates.
“He was taking out the trash and decided to take off. And he was faster than the officer assigned to him.”
The inmate was apprehended and penalized with more time, King said.
Sometimes interaction with those on the outside can result in inmates receiving illegal drugs, the warden admitted, but he said he was unaware of how often that occurs.
“The potential is always there,” he said. “Loved ones do find out where they’re working, and common sense in general says it’s bound to happen.”
“They go out with a county employee who is a licensed jailer,” he said. “It’s beyond my supervision. I don’t know.”
When trustees enter the work program, King said, they are within three to six months of completing their sentences.
“You have to remember that they will be re-entering society shortly thereafter, and we want to give them a chance to come out with self-esteem,” he said.
So how is a trustee rewarded for a full day’s work with no pay or benefits?
They can receive up to three days off their sentences, King said.
“Sometimes it’s one day for one, but generally it’s three days off their sentence for one day of work,” he said.
The Work Force
Parker County has been tapping the inmate workforce for many years, Precinct 3 foreman Elton Glidewell said, and county commissioners are generally satisfied with the kind and quality of work they have received.
Most commissioners use two to four inmates daily at their precinct barns, he said.
“Some of these guys are really skilled,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Craig Peacock said, “electricians, welders … I had one of them rewire my whole shop.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley was so impressed with Judd Holdsclaw that he later hired him. Holdsclaw, who has experience in construction, has worked for the county for almost three years.
“For me [being a trustee} was an opportunity,” Holdsclaw said, “a way to fulfill my obligation to Parker County.”
Holdsclaw said Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler’s inmate work program is one of the biggest in Texas. He called the program a “win-win for everybody.”
“The county can utilize the labor and save money, and, for the most part, the trustees are eager to do what you ask them,” he said.
“Even picking up trash is better than being in that jail cell.”
Glidewell said trustees sweep, mop and clean their precinct offices every Friday afternoon.
“A lot of them are really young, 18 or in their early 20s,” he said. “They’re just normal guys who made a bad choice.”