The Pulaski County Commissioners were approached at their biweekly meeting on April 18 by Fred Zhart with the Winamac Tree Committee. Zhart requested approval of the use of inmates to help him dig holes to plant 28 trees this weekend.
Zhart told the commissioners that he has enlisted the assistance of inmates before, and he reminded them that he did not allow smoking or contact with other people while the inmates were assisting him. Zhart went on to say that inmates were not only grateful to get out and work, but when the returned to work they are much easier to manage.
“These young men have all been real happy to get out, get a little fresh air, and it’s been a tremendous help. We’ve been having trouble getting volunteers, especially this weekend, which is Easter weekend,” said Zhart.
Zhart stated that his committee has planted almost 1000 trees in a local tree lawn, and have planted another 1000 in other areas. He said that this work is mostly done by volunteers, and without these volunteers, he is hard-pressed to get this kind of work done. Zhart also told the commissioners that he has tried to use Community Service offenders, but they rarely show up when they are asked to.
“This is a good time for them to practice skills that people on the outside would need and use. And there’s other people in the community that would like to have these offenders,” said Zhart.
Unfortunately for Zhart, the commissioners were hesitant on allowing inmates to assist him in his tree planting. The issue lies in the lack of insurance coverage for inmates, as they only have $10,000 coverage for the entire year. This amount covers every injury for every inmate, which is not a lot of coverage for working inmates. Community Corrections, on the other hand, are covered by insurance, so individuals working off community service could be enlisted to help with the planting.
County Attorney Kevin Tankerslee suggested offering an incentive, such as “double hours,” in which for every one hour of labor, the individual would be credited with two hours of community service time served. Zhart was not a fan of this idea, because he felt that these individuals should not have to be offered an incentive to come out and work off their community service.
“I have absolutely no problem using inmates, I’ve said that numerous times, but I have been pretty vocal on the fact that we have to make sure that we protect the county’s liability in that fact. I think it’s good to have the inmates out there working and doing things, I have no problem with that whatsoever,” said Commissioner Kenneth Boswell.
Because of the lack of coverage, the commissioners told Zhart that he would have to use people from Community Corrections for the time being, and suggested he talk to the judge about offering the double-hour incentive to ensure he gets the assistance he needs. The county is currently looking for insurance carriers to cover the inmates. They have received one quote for $25,000 coverage for $1000 a month, but they are looking into other quotes as well.