Sunday, January 30, 2000

Work-release problem: Some don't return

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON - A popular Warren County program that frees offenders from jail each day so they can go to work has a problem.

        Sometimes, they don't come back.

        Nineteen inmates on work release - one of few such programs in the Tristate - failed to report back to jail in 1999.

        Six are still on the loose, one of them for more than a year, an Enquirer review of county records found.

Inmates currently missing from the Warren County work-release program:
  Rondol Barrett
  Age: 46
  Last address: Mulberry Street, Lebanon
  Jailed: Aug. 14
  Offense: Probation violation; didn't pay $2,400 in fines in a drunk-driving case
  Work release ordered: Nov. 13, Warren County Court Judge James Heath
  Went AWOL: Nov. 18
  Michael Alcorn
  Age: 25
  Last address: Germantown Road, Middletown
  Jailed: Oct. 24
  Offense: Probation violation; failed to show up for litter detail as punishment in a traffic case
  Work release ordered: Oct. 269, Warren County Court James Heath
  Went AWOL: Oct. 27
  Steven Maynard
  Age: 26
  Last known address: Garfield Street, Middletown
  Jailed: Nov. 18, 1998
  Offense: Failure to pay child support
  Work release ordered: Dec. 7, 1998, Warren County Juvenile Court
  Went AWOL: Jan. 4, 1999
  Harry Haslam
  Age: 50
  Last known address: Broad Street., Lynchburg
  Jailed: Dec. 29, 1998
  Offense: Theft
  Work release ordered: May 13, Mason Municipal Court Judge David Batsche
  Went AWOL: May 13
  David Munsch
  Age: 21
  Last known address: Hancock Court, Mason
  Jailed: May 31
  Offense: Failure to pay child support
  Work release ordered: Sept. 2, Warren County Juvenile Court
  Went AWOL: Sept. 17
  Kenny Kier
  Age: 32
  Last known address: Gladys Road, Lynchburg
  Jailed: Aug. 31
  Offense: Failure to pay child support
  Work release ordered: Sept. 17, Warren County Juvenile Court
  Went AWOL: Sept. 22
        Capt. Tim Lamb, who heads the Warren County Jail, says the work-release program is such a security risk and so time-consuming for his staff that the county should get rid of it.

        "You have inmates coming back that are drunk. And anytime you have an inmate leaving and coming back, you have the possibility of contraband being brought into the facility," he says.

        "But our judges like it and they are not going to change."

        Warren judges, who control the program and decide which inmates can be freed for work, insist they're not concerned by the AWOL inmates. They say the program, which allowed 361 inmates to work in 1999 so they could attempt to pay child support and court fines, is a success.

        A national corrections expert says walkaways are expected in an honor system that relies on inmates to return on their own to jail each day. But he cautions that authorities should take care in whom they let out.

        In Preble County, which runs its program much differently than Warren's, authorities say they've had only one AWOL worker since 1994.

        "I'd be doing some serious talking with someone about how they determine who gets on the program," says Major Larry Swihart, who runs the Preble County Jail.

        Judges control the work-release program in Warren County. They decide which inmates are eligible and order jail staffers to release the prisoners.

        The judges say they typically send child-support scofflaws, drunken drivers and petty thieves to the work-release program. But prisoners convicted of domestic violence and assault sometimes are let out, too, if a judge doesn't consider them a risk to the victim.

        An unrelated Warren County program that lets inmates out of a jail for holidays led to tragedy last Thanksgiving. William Chapman, jailed on a parole violation and telephone harassment charges involving ex-girlfriend Suzie Thompson, killed the 42-year-old South Lebanon woman and himself after failing to return to jail on time.

        If they don't already have jobs, work-release inmates usually are hired as unskilled laborers through a temporary employment service. They leave the jail at assigned times and are generally expected to return within an hour of the end of their shifts.

        They are searched for contraband and are subjected to random drug tests. Work release can be revoked if an inmate violates the rules.

        Court records show Warren County's work-release program is a system of second chances for some who have failed at their first attempt in work release and similar programs.

A risky candidate
        In one case, there were tell-tale signs that Michael Alcorn might be a risky candidate for work release. A judge gave it to him anyway.

        The 25-year-old Middletown laborer had failed to show up for litter patrol as punishment for a speeding conviction in 1998. When authorities found him a year later, Judge James Heath of Warren County Court sent Mr. Alcorn to jail for 30 days. Judge Heath also granted Mr. Alcorn work release so he wouldn't lose his job at a Carlisle factory.

        At 9 a.m. on Oct. 27, Mr. Alcorn left the jail on his first day in the work-release program. He never came back and remains at large.

        Another man, 30-year-old Danny Testerman of Maineville, convicted of aggravated menacing, was on work release for a month in July when a drug test at the jail showed that he had used cocaine and marijuana. His work privileges were revoked.

        Four months later, in December, Judge Heath placed Mr. Testerman back on work release so he could support his three children and pay $771 in court fines.

        On Jan. 6, Mr. Testerman borrowed a co-worker's car at World Color in Lebanon and left. Police found him drunk about two days later, jail officials said.

        “Usually after one try, they are not worthy of work release. But you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. You have to look at what the violation is,” Judge Heath said.

        “There is not a black and white to this. It's a judgment call.”

Limited resources
        Probation officers say they are overworked and can't check on work-release inmates. In Mason, for example, the city's part-time probation officer also serves as the court bailiff and “doesn't have time to check on all these things,” Mason Municipal Judge David Batsche said.

        He recalled a 1998 case in which an inmate would go to work, call his probation officer when he arrived, then meet his girlfriend in the parking lot and leave for the day.

        That practice went on undetected for about two weeks, Judge Batsche said.

        About a year ago, after that case, Judge Batsche contracted with the sheriff's Community Corrections Program to verify prisoners' employment and keep track of them.

        Kevin White, who alone runs Community Corrections and monitors 180 inmates in work release and other programs such as home incarceration, said he does his best to track inmates and occasionally stakes some out. But it's nearly impossible to keep track of everyone, given his workload, he said.

        Dick Kilburn, chief probation officer for Warren County Court, echoed that concern.

        “We should stake them out. But I don't have enough people here. There are three probation officers and we've probably got 900 people on probation,” he said.

        Although escape charges are filed on inmates who fail to return, sheriff's officials said they don't send out search parties.

        Arrest warrants are issued, and deputies attempt to serve them at the inmate's last known address. Calls are made to the prisoner's employer, family and friends, Col. Del Everett, the sheriff's chief deputy, said.

        “They come back eventually. They resurface in the area for whatever reason. Eventually they get caught,” Mr. White said.

        Jerry Hayslip, 35, of Kings Mills, jailed for failure to pay child support, was on the run for a year. He was out of the state for most of that time before he was apprehended on his motorcycle in Warren County in December.

        AWOL prisoner Bobbie Sutton of Franklin turned himself in when guilt and his girlfriend's prodding got the best of him.

        In jail on an assault charge, he was granted work release to a job as a handyman at the apartment building where he lived.

        Last April, after two weeks on the job, he left and stayed on the run for seven days.

        “It started getting to be pretty weather. I got the spring fever in me and I knowed it was wrong. I shouldn't have done it,” said Mr. Sutton, who is now out of jail.

        He was released from jail on the assault charge in July. Even though he was found guilty of escape for skipping out on work release, that sentence ran concurrently with the assault charge.

        Mr. Sutton, 43, said he felt hunted when deputies' attempts to find him led them four times to the homes of his mother and girlfriend. He would not say where he stayed.

Comparing elsewhere
        Officials run work release differently in Preble County and Dayton, two other places with such programs.

        In Dayton's program, only inmates who already have stable jobs are eligible for work release. Willie Finklea, who runs the program at Dayton Human Rehabilitation Center, thinks that could account for the small number of walkaways there.

        He said two or three inmates failed to return from work release last year, and they were caught.

        Preble County and Dayton also allow fewer inmates out on work release. While Warren County averages 30 to 40 workers at any given time, Preble might have six and Dayton 14.

        Inmates there are charged steep fees to be in the program, too. Preble and Dayton officials say the fees help weed out potential problems, and make even temporary freedom from jail seem like punishment.

        Work-release inmates in Dayton are charged 20 percent of their gross weekly earnings. In Preble County, a sliding scale of $20 to $40 per day eats up most of an inmate's earnings.

        “If they don't pay, what's their penalty? Being out wherever you want all day long isn't punishment,” Preble County's Maj. Swihart said.

        But Warren judges say the county's program is meant to collect money for families and the courts and to teach offenders to be responsible.

        “I'm trying to collect child support. I'm not dealing with people who have committed violent crimes. They are crimes against kids,” said Judge James Flannery, the county's sole domestic relations judge.

"Got my own problems'
        He said he sends 50 to 60 inmates who owe child support to the work-release program a year. Few of them skip on the program, he said.

        Is he concerned by the number of walkaways countywide?

        “No. They are not my cases,” he said, although records show that Judge Flannery did grant work release to Mr. Hayslip, the AWOL inmate who was gone for a year.

        “I'm not trying to be cavalier, but I've got my own problems. I'm handling 800 new divorces a year here. I'm trying to keep my head above water.”

        If run properly, work release's benefits outweigh the problems, said Stephen Ingley, executive director of the American Jail Association, a private association of sheriffs, jail administrators and officials that works to improve jail standards.

        “It keeps the incarcerated tied to the community. It lets them earn a living so that they are less of a drain to the community and at the same time remain taxpayers,” Mr. Ingley said.

        He said no national statistics are kept on work-release programs.

        Locally, Hamilton, Butler and Clermont counties don't have work-release programs because such inmates can easily bring contraband into the jail, and crowded facilities aren't equipped to separate them from other prisoners, jailers said.

        Kentucky jails, however, have a long-standing tradition of work-release programs, said John Schickel, a board member of the Kentucky Jailers Association and Boone County jailer for 12 years.

        About 10 to 15 inmates are on work release in his county at any time, Mr. Schickel said. He thinks it's realistic to expect about 20 percent to fail in the program by testing dirty on drug scans or by going AWOL.

        Warren County Judge Dallas Powers doesn't think missing prisoners are a safety risk, even though he was criticized for granting a Thanksgiving furlough to William Chapman.

        He's not in favor of scaling back on the program.

        “To me it is an excellent program,” he said. “Not everybody is a success story. But many are.”


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