- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

CLAREMORE, Okla. (AP) - Some Rogers County inmates are stepping up from the trash crew to more skilled work, and saving the county thousands of dollars in the process, according to jail officials.

The Claremore Progress (http://bit.ly/1P5SRqS ) reports that inmates housed at the Amos G. Ward Detention Facility are using their licenses and certifications in various trades, officials say, which helps them reduce fines and shorten their stay with the county.

Lieutenant Nathan Sappington, jail administrator, said, “The wiring and inside work of the new women’s (detention) pod could easily cost $30,000 to $40,000 or more.”

Instead close to $2,500 has been spent and it is estimated a total of $4,500 will be spent upon completion.

Inmates recently painted the outside of the jail, which saved nearly $70,000, Sappington said.

Trustees perform the work. Qualifying as a trustee is not simple, according to Sappington.

Inmates are classified during intake to identify risks that may be present and to house them in proper categories. The classification includes separating non-violent offenders from violent offenders. Only non-violent offenders can participate in the trustee program.

During inmate interviews, the jail staff verifies work history and certifications.

Some of the inmates, Sappington said, are skilled in masonry, electrical work, plumbing, landscaping, and mechanical engineering, to name a few trades.

“If they (inmates) want to participate when approached, we will put them to work. But we are not going to force labor on them,” he said.

One male inmate skilled as an electrician said, “To me … it is about keeping me busy and re-focusing on where I need to be. … It’s not about getting paid. It’s about keeping my skills going.”

Another inmate said being able to use his skills sheet-rocking is a “good thing.”

Both inmates were tasked with wiring and sheet-rocking the new women’s inmate pod. The project is expected to take less time to complete as a result, Sappington said.

Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton said, “There is something to be gained from these tasks. It is a confidence-builder and the inmates will pick up a few beneficial traits if they are around someone skilled.”

Sappington said inmates are given a choice - to do nothing or earn trustee status to serve on several different work crews, shortening their jail stay.

Inmates who do not want to be a part of the trustee staff can clean the jail, earning $25 a day toward unpaid fines. They must serve all of their time. Being a part of a work crew can reduce jail time 50 percent, Sappington said.

Inmates have to have a plan when they are released. “This helps. They gain good work ethics out of this and we want them to be successful with jobs when they leave,” Sappington said.

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Information from: Claremore Daily Progress, http://www.claremoreprogress.com

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