By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Working inmates now under one roof
Couch consolidates county jails work release program
Hall County work release inmates load into a transport bus Friday morning as they travel to their new home at the Hall County Jail. The former female work release facility on Vine Street once housed the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center prior to the county taking it over.

Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch announced and enacted Friday the department’s consolidation of the county’s work release program to the jail’s main facility on Barber Road.

An inmate on work release is allowed to work, and when the shift ends, heads back to jail.

Maintaining separate quarters for work release inmates has been a significant financial burden on the department, Couch said.

“Consolidating the facilities will mean reduced manpower, maintenance expenses, uniforms, equipment and supplies,” he said.

Couch approximated savings nearing $1 million for the department.

Beyond the savings, Couch said, there will be more room for spaces in a program with a waiting list for men.

“By moving both work release programs to the main facility of the jail, it’ll allow the judges more leeway in sentencing, because they’ll have more bed space now in our work release program, where they didn’t have that before — it gives the judges more latitude in sentencing,” he said.

Superior Court Judge Jason J. Deal confirmed that shortage.

“Recently we’ve had trouble because there are not enough beds, and there’s been a waiting list for work release, and so having the ability to have more space will be a great thing for the county,” he said.

Being assigned work release is an option for certain types of lower-level offenses, Deal said.

“We do utilize work release a great bit, both for pre-trial detainees and for sentencing,” he said. “Generally, work release is an option on a county sentence. So if somebody is not going to the state prison system, they’re going to be an inmate in Hall County, and sometimes work release is a better option for all parties involved.

“It’s cheaper than jail for the county, and if the person has a job, they can work their job, pay restitution — those kinds of things. At the same time, it’s more stringent than probation, because we know that person is going to work.”

Those jobs could be in the private sector or assigned for the county.

“Some inmates work for the county, but most of them actually have private jobs: poultry plants or construction, etc.,” Couch said. “I’m about getting the inmate moved from being a tax burden to being a taxpayer. That’s a good goal.”

Inmates in the program have leeway for when and how long they work. Lt. Beverly Mustachio, second in command under Capt. Danny Woods at the jail, noted an example of the sometimes grueling schedule of an inmate who was being held for not paying child support.

“They work 16 hours a day, then they’re back under the county’s wing for eight hours to pretty much sleep,” Mustachio said.

Built in 1999, male work release was previously housed as a standalone building just up the street from the jail on Barber Road. Female work release has been located on Vine Street in Gainesville since 2002, in an aging 1960s era building that housed the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center for many years prior to the county taking it over.

The building’s age showed through the chilly corridors in the old-fashioned facility. The lack of a kitchen meant all the food for the female work release inmates had to be transported from the main jail, Maj. Kevin Head noted. As the Administrative bureau chief, Head oversees the department’s court and jail operations.

One room housed all the inmates, where women waited Friday amid rows of bunk beds with their personal belongings in trash bags to move to their new temporary residence.

“People are always somewhat opposed to change,” Woods said. “But I think when they see how much better it is, they’ll be glad.”

In the jail’s main facility on Barber Road, work release inmates now reside in a previously unoccupied corridor, separate from the other inmates, with separate spaces for the men and women. Previously quartered in one room, inmates now sleep two to a room.

“There’s even enough space, we think, we’re we can house the men and women by what time of day they work,” Head said. “A lot of the time, some people work at night, then would try to sleep in the day, but there’s all this activity going on outside the door.”

The female work release building will be turned over to Hall County government for use or sale once it has been cleaned out, Couch said.

The consolidation of resources to the main jail means security resources can be reallocated more efficiently.

“It will allow us to shift resources to minimum security, allowing other resources to be freed up for deputies to monitor work details,” he said.

Couch envisions roles both old and new for staffing relocations beyond the jail, including the creation of a front desk community resource officer in the Sheriff’s Office, an additional school resource officer, an additional training officer position and an additional courthouse deputy, he said.

“I look at it from a customer service standpoint,” he said. “This job in the end is about serving the community, and finding ways to do that with the resources we have.”

Regional events