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JAIL INMATES BEGIN PROGRAM CLEANING ANIMAL SHELTER CAGES

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Monday, August 1, 2011 —Non-violent inmates from the Cook County Jail have started cleaning cages at the city animal shelter, providing them with work experience and saving city taxpayers thousands of dollars each year, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced Monday.

The 16 inmates began work Monday at the David R. Lee Animal Center, 2741 S. Western Ave. – marking the first time jail inmates have been assigned to carry out duties off of the jail compound. Inmates dispensed food and cleaned cages and kennel areas. They are paid $4 a day – a little less than $1 an hour, but double the rate inmate workers usually receive at the jail. Those selected for the program are serving short sentences for non-violent charges, most for traffic-related offenses. Inmates can use the money they make from working to purchase items through the jail commissary, including snacks and toiletry items. The inmates are searched before they are escorted on a bus to be taken to the nearby animal center and they are supervised by correctional officers the entire time. They are again searched before returning to their jail cells. All inmates wear orange jump suits and conduct the work in the early-morning hours, before the facility is open to the public.

Under a contract approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners and the Chicago City Council, the city will pay the sheriff’s office $231,059 a year to fund all inmate, officer and transportation costs associated with the program. Last year, the city spent $300,000 in overtime costs alone for services like those now being handled by inmates. City officials cited a downturn in volunteers, along with a shortage of staff, for the move.  
“This makes sense for taxpayers on numerous levels – from saving the city money to putting inmates to work instead of having them simply sit in their cell,” Sheriff Dart said. “We’re excited about this program and it’s got us looking at similar programs we can do.”

Sheriff Dart has implemented other innovative programs with jail inmates in order to save taxpayer dollars. This year, military veterans who are incarcerated at the jail took over all laundry responsibilities at the jail, allowing the county to eliminate an outside contract for the service. Sheriff Dart is considering expanding the program to have inmates launder materials from outside companies, citing the possibility for new revenues. Also this year, Sheriff Dart approved expansion of a jailhouse garden that not only provides fresh produce to area homeless shelters, but also to lauded Chicago restaurants like Charlie Trotter’s and Publican, which purchase vegetables from the jail.

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