CROWN POINT | Lake County Sheriff John Buncich said his department's work-release program has increased the amount of money it gives back to the public.
Inmates of the minimum-security holding facility on 93rd Avenue generated $84,580 in fees to county government since the end of June as part of the inmates' "Fair Share" contribution to reimburse the cost of their food and lodging.
The work-release program opened in 1996 as an alternative to holding criminal defendants in the county jail. Its operational costs are lower than the jail, and inmates are required to have day jobs and pay a quarter of their earnings to the "Fair Share" fund.
The work-release program is costing taxpayers $11 million this year.
The sheriff said the "Fair Share" revenue flow is much better than last year, when only $116,430 was collected in the first year of his current administration, or the $98,999 paid in 2010, the last year of Sheriff Roy Dominguez's term in office.
Buncich said the increase is due to a more aggressive approach to finding paying jobs for work-release inmates, including sending solicitation letters to business owners offering federal tax credits for employing the inmates.
“The real successes are when the inmates return to the community and they have a job. This is just a good program. It is a win-win for the inmate as well as our community,” Buncich said, adding inmates who don't have paying jobs do community service such as cleaning up parks, public buildings and assisting at the sheriff's animal control shelter.
Dominguez said his administration's efforts to employ work-release inmates were challenged in prior years by a weaker economy and a lack of paying jobs. County statistics, however, indicate the program generated $262,000 in 2007.