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Program to benefit county, inmates

If all goes as planned, inmates at the county jail could be making nearly a half-million-dollar annual profit for Utah County in just a few years.

Robert Ward, director of crime data analysis for the county sheriff, says the program he's asking the county commissioners to approve is one that's working well for jails and prisons across the nation.Select businesses hire the inmates. The inmates earn money while learning a job skill and they start to pay back the society they've harmed by their crimes.

"I'm a taxpayer," said Ward, "and it aggravates me to know I'm providing a free meal and board when these guys are the ones that committed the crime. This way they'll earn money and contribute back to the community."

With 22 inmates involved in the volunteer Jail Industries program, it would break even, said Ward. With 100 inmates participating, the county could expect to see a profit of $100,000 the first year and $438,000 each year thereafter.

By law, 20 percent of the money an inmate would make would be his or hers to save or to use as personal spending funds. Ten percent would go toward state and federal income taxes, 10 percent to the victim's reparation trust fund, and 10 percent to support an inmate's family. The remaining 50 percent would be reclaimed to cover program expenses and provide a return on the county investment.

Initially, the program will operate out of the new Utah County Security Center with five inmates transported to Haulmark Industries to do basic cleanup and train for assembly line work on trailers.

Eventually, Ward wants to see a separate facility built adjacent to the Spanish Fork jail where inmates would work on a variety of jobs within a secure area.

That way, more inmates could participate with less manpower involved in transportation and supervision, said Ward.

He anticipates the program will build to using 100 inmates by the end of 1998. He has Haulmark Industries committed to hiring the inmates at a starting wage of $6 an hour and has several other interested businesses who plan to participate.

In each case, the work being offered to inmates will be scrutinized by the Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance to make certain inmates are not competing in private sector areas where jobs would normally be offered to mainstream applicants.

"We don't want to create a situation where guys get locked up to get a job," said Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert. "We want to be sure government doesn't become a job provider."

Commissioner David Gardner said within 18 months, the program should show a profit after an initial $185,000 investment. He said the program can become a sentencing alternative for judges and would recapture fines and restitution that are currently going unpaid.

Ward said he's so convinced that the program will work for the inmates and the county that if Utah County decides not to take it on, he'll do it privately.

"There's such an advantage to keeping these guys busy. The inmates want to do this. It's one of the few things I've ever seen where a government agency can come in and provide a way for someone to start paying off what the taxpayers usually have to provide," said Ward.