Hubbard County's Sentenced to Serve provides valuable services

The STS program allows inmates who meet the criteria and have been sentenced for a crime to perform work in the community in exchange for fines assessed by the courts.

The Sentenced to Serve program gives inmates the opportunity to pay off fines while providing valuable services to non-profit organizations like the Disabled American Veterans. Crew members are always supervised and must meet the criteria for the program.
Contributed / DAV

When people in the community see the Sentenced to Serve (STS) vehicle or crew members shoveling snow, mowing or cutting firewood, they may not realize how many services inmates are providing to organizations to make the community a better place.

Kelly Deitchler has been a correctional officer and crew leader for the STS program in Hubbard County for the past two years. Joel Baker also works 30 hours a week with the program.

The STS program allows inmates who meet the criteria and have been sentenced for a crime to perform work in the community in exchange for fines assessed by the courts. Work is done for Hubbard County, the state of Minnesota and non-profit organizations.

Deitchler was in the construction field for over 30 years and is passing those skills on to the crew members.

“We do a lot of remodeling and construction and painting,” he said. “They learn skills they didn’t have before. We go out five days a week and usually for nine hour days.”


Supervising state prisoners

n addition to supervising STS crews, staff also supervise institutional community work crews out of Minnesota state prisons.

“This is their introduction back into society,” he said. “They work with us from six months up to a year and a half. This is the last part of their sentence. They are always under 100% supervision to assure the safety of both the workers and the community. They work with us during the day and then report back to jail. From that program they get released in the county where they were arrested.”

Deitchler said most of these prisoners have been incarcerated for three years or more. “When they can walk out of the door without handcuffs, that’s something special to them,” he said. “They are allowed phones, but without data. They are also allowed to wear civilian clothes. That also gives them a sense of freedom. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel and are looking forward to their future.”

Helping seniors, DNR, nonprofits

Dietchler said they have contracts with the Department of Natural Resources mowing accesses and parts of trails.

“We also work for a lot of townships mowing cemeteries and around town halls,” he said. “We have cut firewood from different county properties that have storm blow downs and sold it to recoup some of our equipment and fuel costs.”

In addition, the inmates work with a lot of non-profit organizations.

“At the Akeley Regional Community Center, we helped them with remodeling projects and groundskeeping,” he said. “We do a lot of work at the food shelf, helping them unload trucks and also shovel snow at the food shelves in both Park Rapids and Akeley. We also shovel free of charge for 28 needy seniors in the area who signed up on our Facebook page a couple of years ago. Inmates who work on these projects feel proud that they have accomplished something.”

Dietchler said inmates working with STS are able to earn $10 an hour towards paying off fines they owe Hubbard County. They must meet the criteria of the STS program, including drug testing.


“A lot of people in jail are awaiting sentencing,” he said. “They have to be sentenced and serving time before they can be on the crew.”

He said for local inmates, getting out of jail to work breaks up the boredom and they enjoy being part of the community.

“A lot of the elderly people we shovel for are so thankful and that makes the inmates feel good,” he said. “A lot of them have never had the opportunity before to be thanked for anything they’ve done. Hopefully they will learn that being part of the community is something to strive for. ”

Donations have helped keep the program running for over 25 years.

Non-profit organizations with projects they would like Sentenced to Serve to consider may download and fill out a job proposal on the Hubbard County website and send it to the sheriff’s department.

“Then I can call them up and talk about it,” he said.

Working with the DAV

Joe Markell is treasurer with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization in Park Rapids. The STS crew helps them fill semi trailers with clothing the DAV collects in bins in the area to raise money for programs for Hubbard County vets.

“When we get 15,000 pounds or so of clothing we call the STS office,” he said. “We have to physically load all that clothing. A lot of us in the DAV are older and many leave for the winter. The bags are 20-30 pounds and have to be carried and thrown to fill the trailer to the top. It’s hard work but the inmates enjoy helping us. It’s always a team effort and the younger muscles work a lot better than us 60 and 70 year olds. It’s a win-win that helps everybody. The inmates are all personable and hard working. And it builds their self esteem and that will help them on their way out. Afterwards we take them out and give them a free lunch.”


Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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