Rockingham County jail superintendent: Inmate trusty program successful
BRENTWOOD — The head of the Rockingham County jail insists that a program allowing trusted inmates to perform maintenance and other jobs at the county complex and local police departments has had many success stories, but he admits that its future may be in jeopardy after a break-in at the East Kingston Police Department.
"This is a very successful program. There are many more success stories that nobody ever hears about," Superintendent Stephen Church said Wednesday.
The inmate trusty program has come under fire since county investigators revealed allegations against inmate Jarred Brisbois, a trusty accused of breaking into an evidence room to steal heroin and an officer's locker where a firearm, Taser, handcuffs and other belongings were stored.
Brisbois is also believed to have driven a police cruiser.
Authorities say the break-in, which may have compromised criminal cases being prosecuted by East Kingston, allegedly occurred when East Kingston police left Brisbois alone at the police station for several hours.
Brisbois was a trusted inmate who earned the privilege to leave the jail for part of his day to work at a police department under supervision.
Trusties are widely used at the Rockingham County Nursing Home to handle jobs like laundry, washing dishes, mowing lawns and other maintenance work.
They're also used at other county facilities and at eight police departments in Rockingham County.
Church would not comment on the details of the East Kingston incident, which is being investigated by the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department and the Rockingham County Attorney's Office.When asked if the break-in could threaten the future of the trusty program, Church said, "I think it's a possibility."
He added, "There's a lot of underlying circumstances surrounding this particular incident."
Church said the inmates — all of whom are considered nonviolent and are serving sentences of a year or less — must be supervised by the police departments that take them. However, he acknowledged that the level of supervision varies from one agency to another."The level of supervision may vary depending on a lot of situations. It works well in most instances," Church said.
The program was suspended after the East Kingston incident, but it started up again recently even though the investigation continues and charges have not yet been filed against Brisbois.
Despite problems with trusties stealing, smuggling drugs into the jail and even attempting to walk away from their job sites over the years, Church defended the program and pointed out the benefits to taxpayers and the inmates themselves.
"Are there problems that happen once in a while? Absolutely. Whatever those reasons are we always thoroughly investigate. In my 25 years I've been here, it's been an extremely successful program," Church said.
The program saves county and municipal tax dollars because it cuts down on the need for maintenance staff, according to Church.
The Rockingham County Nursing Home saves an estimated $500,000 to $600,000 a year by using trusties.
Over the course of a year, Church said the number of hours worked by the trusties around the county complex in Brentwood amounts to 18 full-time employees.
Officials from local police departments that use trusties said they also save because they don't have to hire janitorial staff to mow grass, clean windows and wash cruisers. The departments are only required to transport them and give them lunch; the county pays them $1 a day.Church said the program is also helpful because it's one way to help reintegrate inmates into employment and the world outside the jail. It also shows them another side of law enforcement.
"When their sentences are up, I'm going to be putting them back in your community. They're going to be at your schools with your children. These are the prisoners who are your neighbors," Church said.