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Sentence to Service saves county money, jail time

Hubbard County's Sentence to Service program looks like it will become a victim of state budget woes.

Cuts to many state programs mean lawmakers will no longer fund community service programs for inmates after 2010, which could mean $23,800 locally.

But Hubbard County's program, with an annual budget of $140,000, may still survive financially, thanks to township and public contributions for the popular services it offers.

Over the past decade, the STS and the Community Work Services programs have completed an estimated $1.8 million in public projects, said director Randy Griess. The program also saved the county jail 1,624 days of time behind bars in that decade.

"These aren't dangerous criminals" that are being allowed out of jail to work, Sheriff Frank Homer told the county board Wednesday.

STS has a firewood program and has embarked on projects as diverse as roofing the Akeley Senior Citizen's building, taking care of the township cemeteries and playing a major role in the cleanup of the 2008 tornados that leveled parts of the county.

"It's a tremendous program," said commissioner Don Carlson.

"We got rid of the stigma of picking ditches," Griess said. "It makes a difference to the families" of inmates. "It's the pride of work."

Because the program is partially state-funded, the state has asked inmates perform 50 percent of their work on state projects. But locally, Hubbard County, because of its outside funding, has performed on average one-third of its work for the state, taking care of lake boat accesses, state campgrounds and parks.

But if the state cuts off funding, it's doubtful inmates would continue to perform the work, and county commissioners said the state would quickly learn it was a budget cut that will cost more in the long run.

"No one can do the work as inexpensively," Griess said.

"They need to know when they make a cut there's a consequence," said board chair Lyle Robinson.

According to a 2009 yearend report prepared by Griess, inmates performed thousands of hours of work mainly for townships, non-profit organizations, the DNR and county projects.

STS clients also worked for the city parks and other projects in addition to their state work.

The total value of the 2009 work was $197,768.34. The program saved the jail 520 days at a cost of $9,544.70 and inmates worked off $7,963.64 of fines.

The county debated whether it should begin charging for the inmates' sservices rather than rely on contributions if state funding becomes unavailable after June, the time that money could potentially dry up.

But in June, commissioners said they would begin their budget process, and would see whether the county was financially able to absorb the state's share of the STS funding without implementing a fee system.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364