Lake County work release program ends at midnight
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent June 14, 2014 11:15PM
Updated: July 16, 2014 6:35AM
CROWN POINT — Sunday is the last day of operations for Lake County’s work release program.
Sheriff John Buncich, however, said he plans to continue the community service work to which he committed the department because the cities and towns that took advantage of the free labor are depending on it.
In May, the Lake County Council unanimously approved a plan to end the 19-year-old program and eliminate 28 of 31 jobs to pay for the 24 correctional officers and three mental health professionals that must be hired under a Department of Justice mandate at the Lake County Jail.
Buncich said the last shift for his work release employees ends at midnight. So far, 24 of the 28 workers displaced by the elimination of the program have been integrated into open positions within the sheriff’s department, he said.
The 70-plus inmates in the work release program are being transferred to Lake County Community Corrections, an Indiana Department of Correction work-release program, effective Monday. Those inmates, including many who are misdemeanant offenders, will serve out their sentences in Community Corrections.
New misdemeanant offenders will be assigned to the Lake County Jail or to the ankle bracelet program because Community Corrections cannot accept misdemeanant offenders.
Buncich said the county’s cities and towns are depending on the free labor the department once provided and he is not prepared to let them down.
“I am keeping the community service programs going throughout the year,” Buncich said.
The men’s unit of the Lake County work release program worked 156,923 hours in 2013 on public service projects throughout the county. Through mid-May, the unit had worked 59,860 hours. The women’s unit added another 9,844 work hours in 2013 and 1,833 hours by mid-May.
Work release inmates have performed community service in Gary, Crown Point, East Chicago and Merrillville, mostly cleaning up streets and parks.
The units also work at the U.S. Steel Yard baseball stadium in Gary where they clean the ballpark and work in food service.
Merrillville Town Council President Carol Miano said the town relies on work release inmates to clean the town’s busiest streets where many of the retail businesses are located.
The sheriff’s department relies on work release inmates to staff its services. In 2013, work-release inmates worked 23,360 hours in animal control and 14,976 hours in the jail laundry alone. So far in 2014, 8,576 hours have been worked in animal control and 6,432 hours in the laundry.
Road crews have been dispatched to Cedar Lake, Gary, Hammond, Lowell, Merrillville and unincorporated Lake County. They also have been used by the Indiana State Police.