Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister wants to eliminate a long-standing jail policy that he says makes it difficult for inmates with work-release privileges to find gainful employment.
A resolution unanimously approved Tuesday by the Sauk County Board’s Law Enforcement Committee would permit the sheriff – rather than the county board – to set fees for inmates in the jail’s Huber Center.
If the resolution is approved by the full county board later this month, Meister said he would change a policy that requires Huber inmates to work at least 32 hours per week and pay $16 per day in boarding fees.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Meister told committee members the rule is unnecessarily restrictive because employers often are willing to hire Huber inmates to work only part-time hours, or fewer than 32 hours per week. Inmates who can’t find jobs that meet the 32-hour requirement do not pay boarding fees.
Miester said he would allow inmates to take jobs that offer fewer hours. And because this would translate to lower wages, he would permit inmates that work fewer hours to pay lower boarding fees.
Only 47 percent of Sauk County’s Huber inmates have jobs. Meister said his goal is to have more than 60 percent employed by the end of the year. It’s unclear, however, what the financial impact of the proposal might be for the county.
“If there are more Hubers working, we could make money,” Meister said. “But that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m just looking to get them a job.”
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The resolution approved Tuesday says it is desirable for inmates to accept jobs, even if they are part-time, because that provides them with valuable work experience and may reduce the chances that they wind up back in jail down the road.
If inmates are permitted to accept jobs that offer fewer work hours initially, they may be offered additional hours down the road, Meister said. And that could help them get the ball rolling toward full-time employment.
The sheriff’s department already utilizes programs that connect work-release inmates with potential employers, but it will soon begin a new effort to make those connections easier. The department has scheduled a job fair for Huber inmates that would allow them to be interviewed by prospective employers and complete all the necessary application paperwork in one swoop.
The new initiatives came following a brainstorming session the sheriff had with county supervisor Peter Vedro of Baraboo, who commended Meister for taking a proactive approach and being willing to experiment.
“The 32-hour rule really is a restraining force that is precluding some of these inmates from potentially getting a foot up,” Vedro said during Tuesday’s meeting. “If they can get a couple hours a week (of employment), that’s better than nothing. And it could turn into more hours over time.”
Most county jails utilize the 32-hour rule, Meister said, and typically charge higher fees than Sauk County’s $16 per day. But he said if an alternative method can produce better results, there’s no reason to stick with the status quo.
The county board will consider the resolution during its monthly meeting, which takes place at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Sauk County West Square Building in Baraboo.