Calif. sheriff to open inmate auto shop

Officials are planning a vehicle maintenance station as a work release option to ease jail populations

Chico Enterprise-Record

RED BLUFF, Calif. — While waiting for an inmate work farm to materialize, Tehama County officials are planning a vehicle maintenance station as a work release option to ease jail populations.

With the Tehama County Jail feeling the burden of increased population due to state prison realignment in Assembly Bill 109, administrators have had to think fast.

AB109, which took effect in October, sent some low-level offenders who would have gone on parole, from state prisons to county probation jurisdiction, and rewrote the laws so new low-level offenders would be sentenced to county jail instead of prison.

By putting to work more than 70 convicts who spend nights at their homes, Sheriff Dave Hencratt is trying to save space and money in the jail.

With workers already placed at the fairgrounds and other locations around the county, Hencratt proposed Tuesday adding another venue: a county vehicle maintenance shop.

The California Corrections Partnership voted to allocate roughly $45,000, mostly in startup costs, to create the work release program addition.

Offenders who qualify for the program would be eligible to train in fields such as auto detailing, oil changes, changing tires and other minor vehicle maintenance duties.

Hencratt has in mind a 4,000-square-foot garage off Antelope Boulevard that could employ up to a dozen work release participants in maintaining sheriff's and other department vehicles.

"We can keep 12 guys very busy, every day," he said.

Eventually, the program could include certifications of completion for the participants who successfully work through each skill or training portion, he said.

The participants will be supervised by a deputy with experience in mechanics and vehicle maintenance, Hencratt said.

All major vehicle maintenance will still be done by certified mechanics, but the routine maintenance done by the work release inmates would save the department money, he said.

The facility will need a few accessories added, such as lockers, a computer and some equipment, but once the lease is approved and the funds allocated, the program could be in operation within about a week, Hencratt said.

Although it will be with a little irony that the people convicted of crimes will be cleaning and fixing the vehicles that took them to jail in the first place, the program will give people the opportunity to make changes in their lives, he said.

"This is the first time we've had a chance to do this and make a full-blown facility," Hencratt said.

Some maintenance is done by work release participants in the parking lot at the Sheriff's Office, he said. But it must stop every time it is too hot or it rains.

The new services would only be for county-owned vehicles, he said. He doesn't want to compete for private jobs. 

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