No inmates lost jobs after Grand Forks County moved to end work release program
All of the inmates participating in the work release program at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center have transitioned to electronic home monitoring, and none of those participants have lost their jobs as a result of the recent termination of the program.
The Grand Forks County Commission unanimously voted to suspend the work release program at its Dec. 3 meeting. The move came at the request of Bret Burkholder, administrator of the GFCCC, as a way to combat increasing contraband brought into the jail. The end of the work release program came on Sunday, Dec. 15, after a two week period to allow inmates enough time to make preparations for the change. There are 12 inmates who are on electronic home monitoring.
Lieutenant Wayne Mack is the work release program coordinator at GFCCC. Mack spoke with the Herald by phone Friday evening, Dec. 13, two days before the end of the program. “Nobody has lost their job or anything because of it,” he said.
One of those inmates, Keenan Eigenheer, said he has spent weekends at GFCCC for a drug possession charge, though he was never officially on the work release program. He reached a plea agreement to go directly EHM. He has an apartment in town and works at Hardee’s. He said his sentence will end at the end of the month.
“I will say it is better than being in jail, in my opinion,” said Eigenheer. “On house arrest and stuff, I can eat whenever I want and not eat when their meal times are. If I'm ever hungry, I can make a snack and not have to wait until they serve a meal, you know.”
Eigenheer said EHM is also better than being in the county correctional center because there are fewer chances of being punished.
“Even in the jail, (if) one person breaks a rule than everybody in the whole area suffers because one person didn't want to follow a rule, you know?”
The move to stop the work release program had multiple angles. One was to reduce the amount of contraband being brought into the jail, which Burkholder previously told the County Commissioners was increasing. Mack agreed with that assessment.
“I mean, we obviously we did have some contraband in the facility, so the powers that be deemed that this was one way to curb some of that,” said Mack of the decision to end work release at GFCCC.
Another angle is the safety issue. After the Dec. 3 Commission meeting, Burkholder told the Herald he was concerned that a weapon could be smuggled into the jail, as items the size of vape pens and lighters had been discovered before.
Yet another angle is the crowding issue. The 12 people who moved to EHM have opened 12 additional beds at the jail, but this has not alleviated crowding.
“Yes, those individuals are no longer housed here, so without question that helps, but that being said, our in-house population this morning was 219 inmates which is well above functional capacity of 180,” stated Burkholder in an email to the Herald Monday, Dec. 16.
Overcrowding at the jail was mentioned in a needs assessment done by Chicago architectural firm HDR, and presented to the County Commission in September. The assessment recommends expanding the jail by adding 130 beds, at a cost of $20 to $25 million.
EHM is still considered incarceration, according to Burkholder, with only the “housing” of the inmate changing. The inmate wears an ankle bracelet outfitted with GPS that allows workers at the jail to track where the person has been, as well as their current location. People on EHM are allowed to work for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, or go to school, provided they supply the jail with a school schedule.
The inmate must pay a deposit on a GPS equipped ankle bracelet, and they have to pay $8.50 per day for the equipment. Previously inmates had to pay $15 per day to be allowed to participate in the work release program. There is a multitude of rules to being on EHM, including no alcohol or drugs. Inmates can work one job only, which must be located in the county. The inmate’s address also needs to remain stable, among several other rules.
Eigenheer said he is fine following the rules of being on EHM.
“I'm okay with them,” he said. “It's pretty much you only get like an hour and a half per week to go out and do grocery shopping and stuff like that. It's pretty much just like alternate jail.”
The only thing Eigenheer said he doesn’t like is the one-job rule.
“You’re only allowed one job, which kind of sucks, because I’m trying to get a second job to get more money incoming,” he said.