Geneva County Sheriff looks into work release program to bolster salaries

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GENEVA, Ala. (WTVY) - Several recent domestic incidents, plus a regular workload of calls has made for a busy week for the Geneva County Sheriff's Office.

The office needs the help, but low pay, tough hours, and hard, risky work have made it hard to recruit deputies.

There's not much the sheriff can do about the hours and the risky business, but he's looking for a way to increase the salary, and thinks he may be on to something.

"The labor force is not here that we used to have,” said Hartford Farmer Randy Shields.

Randy Shields has been farming in Geneva County since 1969.

He's seen a lot of things change along the way, including a decrease in people willing to work out in the heat.

In the past, he's relied on inmates in a work release program.

"They're able to put money - if it's child support that they're falling behind on, they can work on that,” said Shields. “It just gives them some hope."

He would pick the inmates up at the jail, take them to his farm for eight hours, give them lunch, then drop them back off at the jail.

Geneva County no longer has a work release program, but it's something Sheriff Tony Helms whole-heartedly supports.

"Several sheriff's offices run work release programs,” said Helms. “The inmates go out to work and they bring money back to the county that helps pay their fines and housing costs, and that money does help."

Helms isn't exactly sure how much money having a work release program would bring, but ideally the county would receive 25% of their wages.

Which means if he had 30 non-violent inmates, working 40 hours a week, the office could make around $2400 a week off the program.

It's not much, but it could be a decent raise for his underpaid deputies.

"The people of this county deserve to have good people working for them and with them, but in order to have good people, you're going to have to pay them, and you're going to have to increase the benefits, and we're going to have to do that to be competitive with the private market out there,” said Helms.

Sheriff Helms says he's been trying to get a court-ordered work release program started since he was elected in 2014.

He's had several bills go through the state legislature, but hasn't been able to get it approved yet.

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