Inmates help clear underbrush

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:18 PM

Loretta Park

FARMINGTON — The buzz of chain saws filled the air as six Davis County Jail inmates hauled branches from Farmington’s hillside, stacking them for the wood chipper at the bottom of the hill.

The hand-picked crew opted to be out in the triple digits Thursday instead of staying inside their air-conditioned cells. They’ll be out again as long as the Farmington Fire Department and the state’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands need help to clear the underbrush along Farmington’s east side. The fire department received a grant from the U.S. Forest Service, which allows its to reduce fuel loads along the east side, said Farmington Fire Chief Guido Smith.

And in an effort to maximize the grant, Smith asked the jail if it would allow some of its inmates who are in the jail’s work center to help.

The city pays for the inmates’ lunches and drinks, which is $50 a day for all of them. Smith said by using the inmates he is saving the city money.

Smith has used inmates for other projects, such as maintenance and removing debris, and “I’ve yet to meet a bad inmate,” he said. “They’ve all been really hard workers.”

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” he said.

County jail inmate Colten Bodily, 21, of Bountiful,agreed.

Bodily, like the others, volunteered to go out in the heat to drag limbs down the mountainside. He has been in the jail for the past seven months and has three more months left. When asked if they would like to be part of the jail’s inmate worker program, they discovered there was more to it than mowing the lawns around the facility.

The inmates in the program, while supervised, have dug trenches at the county’s gun range, helped prepare Legacy Events Center for events, cleaned trash alongside Interstate 15, made and delivered meals for the Meals on Wheels program, trimmed trees, fixed fences and broken up the sand at Davis Park Golf Course and taken care of a garden for the needy at the Utah State University Botanical Gardens in Kaysville.

They do not get paid for their time, Bodily said.

Other inmates have told Bodily and the others they’re crazy to volunteer, eight hours a day, on an almost daily basis.

“Getting out of the jail every day is reward enough, plus we get ‘good time,’” he said.

For Bodily, that could translate to reducing his one-year jail sentence to eight months, if the judge agrees.

County Sheriff Todd Richardson said the sheriff’s office has always had a jail inmate work release program, but when he took office two years ago, he stepped it up. He wanted to give more inmates more opportunities to work instead of just doing their time.

Those involved are screened by jail administrators before being accepted. They cannot have a violent criminal history or be a flight risk.

The six on Farmington’s hillside on Thursday all have misdemeanor convictions, ranging from theft to giving false information to a police officer.

“We’ve all made mistakes, and we just want to show we’re really not bad people and give back to the community we took from,” said Daniel Burnside, 30, of Salt Lake City.

Richardson said the inmates do receive a form of compensation for their work. The hours they work go toward their “pay for stay.” The jail charges inmates $10 a day for their stay, which is the law.

Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Vic Saunders said the Davis County Jail inmates have saved the state money because the county provides the inmates at “no charge” to clean the interstate.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Bobbie Wall said UDOT had been picking up the inmates on a daily basis for almost a month to clean the interstate.

County Commissioner Louenda Downs said the program does benefit the community, but the most important part is it also helps the inmates.

“Here’s a group of inmates who are just trying to make amends,” Downs said. “They’re working hard and not just sitting in a cell somewhere.”

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