No one registered an objection Wednesday to the proposed Jail Industries program that could make Utah County a net profit of $438,600 a year once it gets rolling.
In fact, only a handful of individuals showed up to discuss the plans to implement the inmate work program that would put non-risk prisoners to work at Haulmark Trailers in Springville initially and in selected private businesses thereafter.The program, endorsed by Utah County Sheriff David Bateman and being developed by crime data specialist Robert Ward, could start up within the next 30-60 days once federal certification is granted.
Catherine Burgess, hearing officer with Utah Correctional Industries, said with no objections posted and no protests filed, it probably would not take very long to get approval for the idea.
"We do this all the time at the prison," Burgess said. "We call it private sector partnership."
At one time in history inmates were exploited at the expense of local jobs. However, federal regulations now place limits on the partnerships. Inmates are paid the prevailing wage, and every effort is made to be sure no local workers are displaced by prisoner employees.
"That's why we have a mandate to hold this kind of public hearing," Burgess said.
Ward said the program is designed to recapture 50 percent of the inmates' wages to support the jail and the program. Twenty percent of the wages will be kept by the inmates for them to spend or save as they choose. Ten percent will go to state and federal taxes and 10 percent into the Victim's Reparation Trust Fund.
Also, 10 percent will go to support the families of inmates who depend on the income.
"The inmate, by law, has to get 20 percent," Ward said. "Any surplus will be dispersed at the jail's discretion, such as more put toward the reparation trust fund or more into the inmate's savings so he will have transition money when he gets out."
Funds returned to the program will pay for a director, an administrative assistant, and any overhead and transportation costs. Total program expenses are projected to be about $135,000.
With a minimum number of 100 inmates involved, Ward said with-in two years the net profit should be $438,600.
"We're willing to bet on the future," he said. "We think this is a way to save taxpayer's money and give inmates a way to give back to the society they've harmed."
In addition, the prisoners learn how to exist in the business world. The number of inmates who return to jail within a year of their release drops by 65 percent after involvement in such a program, Ward said.
"Utah County will be the first county in the state who's done this," he said. "There are state institutions who do these kinds of things and they're very successful. There's no reason we can't do the same."
Bateman said the program presents some unique challenges simply because jail prisoners are in for an average stay of 14 days as opposed to long-term prison sentences.
He said prisoners selected for the Jail Industries program would be kept separate from the general jail population and searched upon each day's return from work to reduce the risk of passing on contraband. He added that inmates will be supervised by certified security personnel on the job.
"Basically the inmates become more manageable because they want to do this," Ward said. "It has a positive effect on their self-esteem."