It’s a move that the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department didn’t want to make, but had to: cutting the Inmate Worker Program that puts prisoners to work. As a result, a program that inmates have said helped put their lives back on the right track is now among the many cuts.
Winnebago County Jail Inmate Worker Program Supervisor Russell Kirby says he’s disappointed that budget cuts forced the Sheriff’s department to suspend it.
“Obviously, it’s a blow to the community,” said Ofc. Kirby.
Restarted in 2015, the Inmate Worker Program allows a handful of prisoners who committed low-level crimes to perform all sorts of jobs while they serve out their sentence, such as cleanup for last month’s Greekfest in downtown Rockford. Not only did inmates say it gave them a sense of direction, but Kirby says it saved the county money on hiring a professional crew.
“It’s a lose-lose on both sides. I believe the taxpayers, the community is suffering more,” said Kirby. “These guys, they can go to the kitchen. There’s different things they can do and still keep busy, but losing them out on the streets is going to be a big blow.”
Despite the announcement, inmates were still hard at work on Thursday. Couple of them were painting helipad ports at the Justice Center.
“People enjoy seeing inmates working,” Kirby. “They enjoy seeing them work alongside picking up trash along roads. They like to know they’re giving back and they like the idea of giving back.”
In two and a half years, inmates in the program logged more than 9,000 hours of work. One inmate who did not want to be identified says the program acted like a form a redemption as he was serving the community while he served time.
“It sucks for a lot of guys who missed their chance to do this and probably won’t get a chance to do it again and even for the community,” said the inmate. “We were out there picking up garbage and helping out and painting and stuff like that.”
The program’s last day is Oct. 30th. The Sheriff’s department says it hopes to bring the program back in the future.