Inmate labor program proposed

Inmates at the Roosevelt County Detention Center can work off jail time by cleaning and pulling weeds on state and county roads. Freedom Newspapers file photo

By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

A Curry County commissioner is pitching an idea to clean up county roads and deter criminal behavior.

Commissioner Tim Ashley told the board Wednesday a recent trip to a conference in Arizona inspired him to research prisoner cleanup efforts around the county. Putting inmates on the streets in orange jumpsuits will serve several purposes.

Ashley envisions the program serving as a deterrent.
“It gets these inmates out working in the public and makes jail time a lot less lucrative to the repeat offenders and it also gives the deputies a chance to make a little more money,” he said.

Ashley has met with county Sheriff Roger Hatcher, who said at least eight of his deputies would agree to work overtime to guard prison workers. Some of his men already work odd jobs outside deputy sheriff duties, Hatcher said.

No action has been taken on the topic. Ashley said he was just informing the board that he was researching the idea.
The financial burden would fall on the county and commissioners would have to devise a way to afford the overtime pay, Ashley said.

Overcrowding has plagued the Curry County Adult Detention Center. Jail administrator Don Burdine reported 89 prisoners being housed in Dickens County, Texas, and 11 in Parmer County, Texas.

Burdine said only about 10 percent of his jail’s population could be forced to work in the program, as the majority of the inmates are awaiting a court hearing and innocent until proven guilty.

The program would do little to alleviate jail overcrowding, he said.

Ashley envisions inmates picking up trash along county roads and in public parks.

“We need to create an environment where jail is not a fun thing,” Ashley said. “You don’t want to be here and you want to avoid this at all cost.”

Inmate workers are nothing new to Clovis, but Hatcher said they work in civilian clothes at events such as the Curry County Fair. He said he does not recall a uniformed prison cleaning crew in the past.

“You put them in an orange jumpsuit and people drive by that and think if they go to jail they’re going to end up picking up trash,” Hatcher said. “I think it is a deterrent.”

A similar program has been in place for more than a year at the Roosevelt County Detention Center in Portales.

There, jail officials allow non-violent offenders to work off jail time by cleaning streets and pulling weeds on county and state roads.

Roosevelt County Commissioner Dennis Lopez said inmates enjoy getting out of jail to work and must earn the opportunity to do so.

“They’re completely, completely content with it; actually they love it,” Lopez said. “If they can show the people that they’re giving back to the community maybe it will be a positive change when they are released from jail.”

But Lopez agreed with Hatcher that inmates cleaning in public places can also act as a deterrent.

“I think there is a humiliation factor with some inmates,” he said.

Hatcher supports the idea, and would recommend two law officers for every 10 inmates on the crew.

But the idea does not come without liability, he said, and the commission would be “gambling” by instituting the work program.

“Is it better than having them in the detention center not doing anything? I can’t say?” Hatcher said. “What people don’t understand is it could create a pretty serious problem if you got two deputies and ten guys and they take off running like quail.”

In other business:
• Les Bond and Grant Pinkerton from the New Mexico Flood Plains Association presented information about flood management. The board adopted the introduction of a flood damage prevention ordinance.

The ordinance would map out flood-prone areas around the county. A person would then be required to get a permit to build in those areas. The ordinance will allow property owners on flood-prone land to purchase flood insurance.

• The commission read a proclamation recognizing the “You Drink and Drive. You Lose” program for this month. It also proclaimed Sept. 16 as “Stepfamily Day.”