Yakima considering work crew program for city inmates

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima might let some city inmates get out of jail, but there are strings attached. The city is considering a program that would put them to work. It would be a lot like what you see along the highways in other communities.

Jeremy Johnson cleans out horse stalls. KIMA met him inside one of the barns at the Yakima County Fairgrounds.

It's Jeremy's punishment for violating probation of a felony conviction in Montana. For him, barns were better than bars.

However, this option isn't available to Yakima's city inmates. But, that might change.

"It would pretty much be available to any offender who qualifies for incarceration alternatives," said Senior Assistant City Attorney Cynthia Martinez.

Right now, city inmates go to jail or are monitored electronically at home. An offer from the state Department of Corrections has asked Yakima to consider its work crew program, but the city's not sure it will.

Judges are talking about making inmates pay for it to cover the state's $14 to $16 a day charge. The fee is about the same for inmates monitored electronically.

So, why would they choose the work option instead?

"There's a lot people who don't want to wear that bracelet, that that's an embarrassing factor in their life," said Martinez.

The work-release program would let inmates go home without the bracelet - and save the city the $40 to $80 a day it costs to keep an inmate in jail.

"I think any time that the public can see a savings as far as criminal justice that we can turn around and use in another manner, we're all wanting to look at that," said Yakima City Councilwoman Kathy Coffey.

Judges would decide whether inmates can join the work-release if they're not considered a threat to the public.

"Anytime that we can get some community service out of offenders without having any public risk, I think that would probably be a potential for a win-win," Coffey said.

The state is offering the city a six-month free trial trying to convince the city to give it a try.

Yakima's legal department is currently working on a contract with the state DOC. City Council will need to approve it. About half of the city's inmates could be eligible for it. Martinez hopes to have the work crew program up and running in Yakima in July.