Inmates work to stay out of jail

Published 12:12 am Friday, July 20, 2007

This is the second story of two about the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office’s inmate work-release program.

Ferriday — It’s hard to tell with a glance that inventory clerk Richard Borek, sitting behind a desk at Oilfield Instrumentation USA’s Ferriday branch, is actually a Concordia Parish inmate.

Borek, who has worked at Oilfield Instrumentation for the last four months, is completing his final three months of incarceration as a member of the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office work-release program.

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The program allows inmates to work in businesses outside of the prison system, where they are supervised not by guards but by business managers.

The prisoners are paid wages, and while the sheriff’s office deducts for housing from their wages and is required by law to charge them for transportation to and from their jobs, the inmates are allowed to keep a good deal of their earnings.

The program is audited by the Department of Corrections and by an outside auditor, and the sheriff’s office cannot take more than 50 percent of an inmate’s wages, program director Capt. Donald Turnage said.

The goal of the program is to be a means of rehabilitation and to ease inmates back into society, Turnage said.

“You have a guy who has been locked up for a few years, and more than likely he has lost everything he had,” Turnage said. “If he’s lost his automobile and his home, how long do you think it will take him to commit a crime?”

The program also gives ordinary citizens a chance to work side-by-side with inmates and to see them as people rather than offenders, he said.

“It has a kind of psychological effect both ways,” Turnage said. “The inmates get to see how people live without committing crime, and the citizens get to see the inmates as someone’s father, son or brother.”

Rather than encourage inmates to become repeat offenders, the program creates a lot more opportunities by teaching them a skill, Borek said.

“I’ve been in (prison) for almost five years,” he said. “This has really helped me get back into the swing of things.”

Work-release inmates often get hired on as full-time employees once they are released from prison, Turnage said.

Oilfield Instrumentation operations supervisor Jeffrey Hahn was one such former inmate.

Hahn worked for the company six months as a work-release prisoner before he was hired full-time at his release.

Incarcerated in 1997, Hahn learned how to weld through the CPSO’s vocational training program. With his release approaching in 2005, Hahn volunteered for the work-release program so he could earn some money.

“The prison provides everything,” he said. “Then they kick you out the door and you don’t have a penny to your name.”

After six months of work-release, Hahn had earned $10,000, and it took every penny for him to get back on his feet once released, he said.

“I think the state should make the program mandatory,” Hahn said. “I’ve seen it a hundred times, guys who get out without any skills and end up right back in prison.

“I never once thought about going back to jail.”

The inmates work for 12 hours a day, six days a week, but most don’t mind, Hahn said.

“They’d rather be out working than just sitting in a cell,” he said.

One important lesson Hahn learned through work-release was a crime-free life is easier, he said.

“It’s easy to come to work, go home and then go to bed,” he said. “To get in trouble you have to go out and look for it at all hours of the night.”