Programs benefit from law benders |

Programs benefit from law benders

Caught by CHP driving with a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit, a 24-year-old began to repay her debt to the community Wednesday by collecting garbage from a riverbed.

Her only other option was to spend time in jail.

“I’d rather be doing something outside than rotting inside a jail cell,” she said. “With this, at least I know something good is going to come out of it. And I’m lucky I have a flexible boss so I can do it once a week and it’s not a big deal.”

Also lucky for her is that the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Work Program is more organized than ever because of its two full-time employees. Most inmates convicted of non-violent misdemeanors are eligible for work release, but it’s a judge who has the final word as to who can be accepted into the program. Right now there are about 100 people on work release.

“We didn’t have the accountability of the program that we do now,” said Lt. Les Lovell, about the sheriff’s work program, which has been an option at South Shore for about 12 years. “If we don’t monitor the program 100 percent we create an opportunity for those people to fail. It’s harder to not comply when someone is watching all the time.”

With increased staff and new rules, such as inmates reporting at 8 a.m. sharp and working at least one day each week, more work is getting done in the community and a greater number of people are completing their sentences without having to go to jail.

“Seventy-five percent of our people are making it through,” said Linda Miller, a correctional officer who has coordinated the program since September. “If you don’t come in one day a week you’ll end up back in front of a judge. If you give people a choice they always want to put it off until the last minute, so we were getting this flood of people. Now it’s much more structured and much more successful.”

A greater success rate for the program means a larger work force for the community. Right now Clean Tahoe, Barton Memorial Hospital, El Dorado County Animal Control and the Happy Homestead Cemetery are all nonprofit organizations that benefit from the program.

Stan Burton, program manager at Clean Tahoe for 11 years, said he relies on workers he gets from the sheriff.

“The majority of the people who do work with us are in a DUI situation,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate to get so much work done at a nominal cost because of all the manpower we are privy to. People who get assigned to us, 99.9 percent of the time, are pleasant to work with and we’re privileged to have them work with us.”

Only inmates who have sentences of 30 days or less are eligible to participate in the program. Lovell said this new rule has made the program much more fluid.

“If it’s beyond 30 days potential for failure really grows,” he said. “We’re encouraging success not failure. If someone is sentenced to more than 30 days they might need to do some jail time.”

Lovell and Miller also want to get the word out to any nonprofit business in the county that may need workers. Anyone interested in the sheriff’s work program should call (530) 573-3313.

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