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Posted on: November 15, 2017

More Than a Job: How Working Inmates in Summit County are Saving Taxpayers Thousands of Dollars

“A lot of us haven’t had that validation in our lives. It’s very humbling and makes you want to try harder.”

A group of four working inmates from Utah Department of Corrections sit around a long, skinny table inside the sheriff’s office. They are opening up about their time with Summit County’s Working Inmates program, a privilege granted to inmates who have completed a series of programs and exhibited good behavior. Two teams of four are led by Deputies Jed Williams and Josh Wall. Utah Department of Corrections contracts with Summit County Jail for housing of state inmates due to capacity issues at the state's prisons.

Jason Hokanson

Inmate Jason Hokanson stands in the doorway of a greenhouse he helped build.

“For a lot of us, this is our job. These guys, he’s our supervisor,” Jason Hokanson says, pointing his thumb over his shoulder to Summit County Deputy Josh Wall. “Rather than inmate to officer, this is employee to employer, and he’s teaching us a lot, helping us hone our skills.”

The working inmate program has been around for 10 plus years. The work the inmates perform saves the County tens of thousands of dollars each year. The jobs which they perform vary, but this class of inmates has participated in the following duties since May: help tear down Quonset Hut at County Fairgrounds, help wire new Kamas Services Building, courthouse projects, including changing lights and moving offices, landscape at courthouse, helped tear down and rebuild a new greenhouse at the jail, help Search and Rescue keep vehicles clean and perform maintenance, pick up garbage along County roads and highway rest stops, haul recycled materials to recycling center, remove carpet from Richins Building, help paint new stripes and signs on roads, crosswalks, schools, roundabouts and handicap spots in parking lots, perform snow removal for seniors and at County buildings, sand down snow CAT, Humvee, enclosed trailer and 4 wheelers for sheriff’s department, and paint walls inside the Woodland fire station.

It’s hard to know just how much money the inmates save the County, but to put it in perspective:

  • Refine some grade work and cut a power line: Bid was $7500. Working inmates did it for $600.
  • Reroute a vent pipe: Bid was $4000. Working inmates did it for approximate $450.
  • Help install Ethernet cable in the Kamas Services Building: Bid was $15000. Working inmates program spent $2500 on wire and paid the inmates for three days of work.

At a pay rate of $6 a day, per inmate, that amounted to $72.

“We do a lot of day to day stuff but there’s some really cool stuff too,” says Wall.

“I like to build things and tear things down. So I really liked working on the greenhouse at the jail. Jed Williams taught me how to use the laser and that was really neat. I got to hone some skills and I really liked that,” Hokanson says.

Rodney Renzo

Inmate Rodney Renzo empties trash cans at a highway rest stop in Summit County.

Rodney Renzo admits his favorite project was helping the Summit County IT Department wire the new Kamas Services Building.

“It’s actually a good trade. By helping out I learned a trade I didn’t even have to pay for and I got to work with real IT guys,” he says.

Renzo says in addition to the job skills he has learned through the program, he has also picked up some life skills along the way.

“One reason [why I do this program] is the money. They don’t pay us a lot but for me, I don’t have anyone who will help me when I get out, but now I’m saving. I’ll be able to re-enter society and learn how to function, deal with people and know how to interact,” he says.

Teamwork has been a big focus of the Working Inmate program.

“In the real world, if you don’t like someone, you can quit. You can fight. You can make it work,” Deputy Josh Wall says. “I tell these guys, ‘You’re gonna have a boss that’s a jerk out there. You can quit, fight, or work through it. We try to make this situation as close to the real world as possible’.”

“These people we’re working for, they let us know they appreciate us. When we see how grateful they are, it makes us want to do more,” Hokanson says.

The inmates admit they can see changes in themselves, and credit their supervisors for helping them get to where they are today.

“I look back at where I was before, I don’t like that person. Because I don’t want to go back, I’ve had to look at what got me here. All of my crimes happened when I was on drugs. But I don’t want to go back; I worked too hard. I learned to build my self-esteem We’ve learned if we’re strong enough to deal with it in here we can deal with it out there,” says Hokanson.

Jason Hokanson was convicted of multiple counts of burglary, criminal mischief, and theft in 2008. His release date is scheduled for Jan 2, 2018. Rodney Renzo was convicted of one count of aggravated burglary in 2008. His release date is set for May 1, 2018.

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