Sheriff’s Department expands successful program

Dan Durrant, a Alternativer Sentencing Office, picks up treash with a Workends crew at Riverbend Park in Palisade. Workender, the program that lets those with jail sentences work them off on the weekends has expanded to Wednesday and Thursday.

Kalub Krieger, 27, has been in and out of jail for various misdemeanor crimes, but it wasn’t until recently that the concept of giving back to the community began to sink in.

Krieger is working off a 30-day jail sentence for misdemeanor assault, but he won’t be sitting behind bars doing his time.

Since May, when the Mesa County Alternative Sentencing Unit expanded the workender program from two days to four days a week, folks such as Krieger can work off sentences faster through supervised community service. The expanded program also benefits nonprofit groups that gain from the free help.

“This has made me understand that we got to pay back the community somehow,”
Krieger said while picking up trash at Riverbend Park in Palisade in advance of the recent Palisade Peach Festival.

Inmates allowed into the program are dealing with less serious, nonviolent felony or misdemeanor offenses. Most of the offenders are serving sentences for drunken-driving offenses, said Connie Olson, alternative sentencing manager for the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department.

The workender program was started in August 2006 as jail space became limited.

Inmates initially were required to sleep at the county’s work-release facility. Those beds since have been dedicated to work-release inmates who work during the day and spend nights in jail.

After the workender program developed a weekend waiting list, the Sheriff’s Department decided to expand the program to two more days a week, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

That means more help for groups that use the services. Workers with construction or landscaping experience have helped build homes. Inmates have removed tamarisk from riverbanks at state parks and have cleared hundreds of pounds of trash from roadside ditches.

They have painted state-owned apartments for the elderly and landscaped yards for local nonprofit groups that request assistance.

Sherry Verdieck, a volunteer coordinator for Habitat for Humanity, said she can use the extra help.

“Whenever we need a group that will work and not goof off, we call them,” Verdieck said. “They are very polite and respectful.”

Sex offenders or other violent offenders who have displayed inappropriate behavior or have a history of failing to appear for scheduled court cases are prohibited from the program.

Only inmates who have been sentenced to 60 days or fewer in jail can complete the program. Inmates work one day in exchange for one day off their jail sentences.

Olson said the program offers inmates the opportunity to keep jobs or look for work while working off jail sentences more quickly. It costs taxpayers more than $50 a day to house inmates in the county jail.

“They are like, ‘Thank God for this program,’ ” Olson said. “They would be in worse shape with the fines and costs of going to jail.” 

An expanded program is also helping inmates feel proud of their role in society by accomplishing community service, instead of sitting in jail.

“One inmate said to me, ‘I can look back on this as something I did that was useful, rather than picking up trash,’ ” Verdieck said of a home-building project.

“When I need a group that will get stuff done right, I ask for them. They’re usually self-contained. I would highly recommend them to anyone who’s looking for a service project.”


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