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Prisoners may be used in cleanup

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

BENTON -- Scott County commissioners are looking into options for using county jail inmates to help clean up the county.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, commissioners said they will soon begin a program using inmates to pick up trash on county roads.

"Like every other county, trash is such a problem," Commissioner Jamie Burger said. "I think (a cleanup program) is something that people would like to see and we have several inmates in our jail who are willing to do it."

Burger said it will strictly be a voluntary program.

"They'd rather be working than sitting in the jail," Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn said.

Commissioners said Sheriff Rick Walter is also in favor of the plan and Ziegenhorn said the county's insurance company has already cleared the county to use prisoners for trash pickup duties.

"We're getting closer to implementing that program all the time," Burger said.

Officials haven't started the program yet because the sheriff's department is currently shorthanded due to accidents and vacation schedules.

"They have to have supervision," Ziegenhorn said of inmate participants, adding the county doesn't have the resources to hire additional deputies for the program.

He said commissioners are also now "in the talking stages" with county judges to see if a work release-type program could reward participating inmates by reducing their sentence since the county is not able to pay them.

"That's something that has to be cleared through the judicial system -- we don't have the power to release somebody from their sentence," Ziegenhorn said.

If a sentence-reduction incentive is legal, the county would benefit by not only having trash removed from county roads but also by the reduction in the county's cost of housing prisoners as some sentences would be shortened.

Commissioners stressed that violent criminals are not eligible for any of the work programs outside of the jail.

"All people in jail are not bad people," Burger said, as some "just made some bad decisions."

In other county business Tuesday:

* County officials discussed how important it is for people to vote in Tuesday's primary election.

"It costs the county a lot of money to have an election," Ziegenhorn said. "It costs the same amount whether anybody shows up or not. Hopefully we'll have a good turnout."

He added that participating in elections "gives you a right to complain" if elected officials don't meet expectations.

"My office will be open from 8-12 Saturday morning for absentee voting," County Clerk Rita Milam said. She said absentee voting will continue until the Monday before the election.

"People still think it doesn't make a difference if they vote or not but every vote makes a difference," Ziegenhorn said.

County officials recalled several local contests in which just a couple votes decided the race.