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Jail population, work release numbers down in 2017

Work is the gateway to a crime-free life. That's what First Circuit Court Judge Tim Bjorkman thinks, and it's why he lets some inmates in Davison County temporarily leave custody on work release. "I think that we should honor work," Bjorkman said...

The number of people on work release as dropped to lower than normal in Davison County. (Matt Gade / Republic)
The number of people on work release as dropped to lower than normal in Davison County. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Work is the gateway to a crime-free life.

That's what First Circuit Court Judge Tim Bjorkman thinks, and it's why he lets some inmates in Davison County temporarily leave custody on work release.

"I think that we should honor work," Bjorkman said. "Work has its own dignity. Holding a job is often the gateway to a crime-free life because it fills probationers' days, allows them to support themselves and their families and has a stabilizing effect on their lives."

Inmates on work release are allowed to leave the jail facility each day to earn a paycheck, and their time at work counts toward completion of their sentence. But the arrangement must be approved by a judge, and not many Davison County inmates have the privilege.

As of Monday, three of the jail's 48 inmates had permission to leave the facility on work release, according to Davison County Jail Administrator Don Radel, who said that was "at the low end" for the jail.

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Radel said about four people have been on work release for the last year, but not long ago, the jail housed more than a dozen inmates who were allowed to leave for business.

The number of total inmates in jail is also lower than usual. At the end of 2016, the jail averaged about 57 inmates per day, but the average has dropped to the high 40s so far this year, Radel said.

The jail works with employers to ensure each person arrives to work on time and immediately returns from the job site, which must be within 50 miles of Mitchell.

The jail contracts with seven counties, Radel said, so inmates from other counties may travel farther, but their home county is responsible for tracking them. Inmates are responsible for their own transportation, but they may park a vehicle at the jail for free.

Inmates who fail to arrive on time, or who bring banned items back to the jail, are kicked out of the program, Radel said, and last month, a woman lost the privilege when her shift ended early and she spent the day shopping instead of returning to jail.

While the program allows inmates to develop a work ethic and get away from the jail, there is a cost. Each inmate must pay $25 for a drug test before entering the program, in addition to a $15 per day housing fee. Other inmates are charged a $10 per day housing fee, Radel said.

For someone working a minimum wage job, the extra expenses are made up for in earnings. At $8.65 per hour, someone working 40 hours a week could earn $346 per week. The weekly jail fines total $105 for someone with work release and $70 for someone without.

"If you're working 50 hours at a minimum-wage job, it's going to be a pretty good chunk of that calculating it out," Radel said.

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Bjorkman, who presides over criminal and juvenile courts in Davison County, said he is more likely to grant work release to someone who maintained employment before being arrested and doesn't appear to pose any harm to others.

"If it's a situation pretrial where I have some concerns about the person being released into the community but he's been holding a job and he's been living in an apparently stable manner in the community apart from this charge, I'll probably give him the benefit of the doubt and, while not releasing him back into the community, allow him work release so that he can continue to work his job and support himself and his family," Bjorkman said.

Post-trial, Bjorkman often issues staggered sentences, in which an inmate may only serve 30 days at a time, with subsequent jail terms scheduled months in advance.

For these sentences, Bjorkman only grants work release for the first 30-day term. After 30 days, the inmate is placed on probation, and if they behave well, the next 30 days will be forgiven.

If the probationer slips up, they will be ordered to return to jail to serve another 30-day term, but this time, the inmate won't have work release, unless court services requests it.

"I want to make serving the staggered jail term as unpalatable as I can to discourage bad behavior and encourage the probationer to comply with probation and move forward in life," Bjorkman said.

Related Topics: CRIME
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