Program trades service for jail time

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A work detail program offered by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office allows defendants to trade eight hours of manual labor for two days jail time. (Courtesy photo)

Reporter Brett Berntsen contributed to this story.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has announced the creation of a program in response to the lack of jail space in the Lake County Detention Center.

The Sheriff’s Labor Detail allows inmates to work eight hours of community service in exchange for two days off their jail sentence, according to Lake County Sheriff Donald Bell.

A press release from Bell said that defendants are often unable to serve their full sentences due to a lack of space. Though inmates must pay fees associated with the program, Bell said they are far less than the cost of serving time in jail.

There are currently more than 800 people in Lake County waiting to serve jail sentences of varying lengths, according to Bell.

The jail will also start offering 12-hour overnight stays in its recreation room as another option for people to serve their sentences, the release states. The room can accommodate six prisoners at a time and inmates will be credited for half a day served per overnight stay, according the the release.

Speaking at a recent Lake County Pachyderm Club meeting, Undersheriff Ben Woods said that the programs are the result of an ongoing dilemma the sheriff’s office is facing.

“These are some of the creative things that we have to do because we don’t have the facilities,” he said.

In the three weeks the work detail program has been in effect, Bell said those involved have shown support and appreciation for the new alternative to jail time.

According to the press release, so far inmates have assisted the Sheriff’s Office with readying decommissioned police cars for auction, raking the court house lawn, picking up garbage on county roads and assisting a nonprofit entity with facility cleanup.

The same issue of overcrowding in Flathead County prompted recent construction to expand the detention center in an effort to accommodate more inmates.

“We’re always open to any alternative to incarceration,” said Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry.

Curry said he intends to watch Lake County’s program to see how successful it is before deciding whether to implement the same type of program in Flathead County.

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