Summit County inmate road crew serves community
The three men patched and covered holes in a small office in the Summit County Sheriff’s Office Thursday morning, occasionally talking to each other, as a deputy oversaw their work. They wore neon-yellow coats over blue-hooded sweatshirts with ‘Summit County Jail’ printed on the back to identify them as inmates and participants in the jail’s Inmate Worker Program.
The program, which had been suspended during the recession, offers eligible inmates an opportunity to give back to the community. Facilitated locally by the Sheriff’s Office, the program pairs inmates with agencies and individuals throughout the community to complete odd jobs, such as shoveling snow or painting roadway signs. Senior citizens have asked for assistance in shoveling more than 50 properties.
Inmate Michael Langheinrich, 57, of Park City, said through the program he is able to "help the community, my community."
"For me it has really been beneficial to do something such as the snow shoveling and the little projects we do out there," Langheinrich said. "From that perspective, it’s a great program."
Langheinrich is serving one-year sentence for a white-collar crime and has been a part of the program for a few months. He said the inmates have been "generally received very positively" by the public, except on a few occasions where they have been concerned.
While the inmates are paid a small wage, the program is treated more like an apprenticeship where offenders are able to gain new skills and interact with the public.
Marcos Palmer, 24, of Las Vegas, Nev., has been incarcerated for the last several years. Palmer, who has one month left in his sentence for aggravated robbery, said the program has helped him get back into a normal routine.
"It’s good to get out and get work because I was in prison for three years before I came out here so it kind of helps you get back to being around ‘normal people,’" Palmer said.
Deputy Bryan Johnson, who has led the program for more than five years, said it is "really neat for the community and really good for these guys to get out and spend some time out working."
Johnson typically has four low-level offenders as part of his road crew, however, he has only had three for the last month. The inmates are carefully screened at the state and local level. To be eligible, workers must not have had any issues within the last three years or have been convicted of a homicide or sexual crime.
Since Johnson has been a part of the program he has not had faced any confrontations or inmates attempt to flee. Johnson said he operates on a zero-tolerance policy.
"We have some small issues, but any time I have a problem with an inmate I just kick them off the road crew," Johnson said. "The biggest benefit to most of them is they want to be outside of the jail and they don’t want to do anything to mess that up.
"This is really neat for the community and really good for these guys to get out and spend some time out working," Johnson said. "It makes their time go by faster and gives them the opportunity to pick up a little instruction to be able to further themselves when they get out."
James Henderson, 48, of Ogden, is serving two back-to-back one-to-15-year sentences for possession with the intent to distribute. Henderson said he has participated in the program before.
"It really takes up your time and gets your mind off of where you are at," Henderson. "Working with Johnson has been amazing and I have learned a lot."
After budget cuts forced the Inmate Worker Program to shut down for several years, Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez has gradually started allocating more resources to restarting it. When the Summit County Council approved the 2016 budget, it also approved an additional deputy for the Sheriff’s Office to help oversee the effort.
"When we lost the entire program we had to make a choice of essentials verse non-essentials and, first and foremost, my job is the security of Summit County," Martinez said. "But it’s a cost saving mechanism to the county and it is basically saving taxpayers’ money. It’s very good for the citizens and it teaches the inmates tools they may have never had before. Hopefully it will ultimately reduce recidivism and give these guys a way to make some money for themselves and their families when they get out."
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After previous failed attempts, the South Summit High School Gay-Straight Alliance met for the first time Oct. 1.