The sheriff’s office began using jail inmates to build a highly effective program at Animal Services that reduced costs and improved outcomes for both animals and inmates. After Highlands County Board of County Commissioners gave the sheriff’s office control of Animal Services in April, 2017, the sheriff’s office has implemented a program that has renovated the facility’s appearance, utilized free labor from inmates and helped inmates improve their ability to get a job after being released.
To make the facility more inviting to the public and encourage more adoptions, the sheriff’s office cleared trees for better visibility, painted the buildings, and removed the bars from the windows. Inmates also painted logos, built signs, planted landscaping, and in return, they have earned 10 days of gain time, or time off their sentences, each month for their work.
Lt. Clay Kinslow and Dep. Tom Sager supervise the inmates who work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Kinslow stated, “The inmates are not bad people. They just made bad decisions — at least the ones who are chosen to do this type of work. Serious offenders are not allowed to leave the jail.”
Inmates who are chosen to work at Animal Services are those who are deemed to be safe to interact with the community.
Kinslow and Sager were the only two additional hires made by the sheriff’s office after taking control of Animal Services. (The eight employees who had worked for the county were rehired by the sheriff’s office.)
Sager stated, “This program gets inmates prepared to go back into society. It gives them a sense of worth. They work regular hours and learn to hold down a job. Inmates can get reference from me when they look for employment. We try to use their talents. Inmates have drawn logos for us, landscaped the facility, and used their carpentry skills to build things.”
Michael Monteleone, an inmate who works with the program, said, “This is the best part of my day. It makes it easier playing with animals. This is the best job you can have while you are here [in jail]. We feed them and play with them. They take care of animals really well here.”
After the pens have been cleaned and the animals have been fed, the inmates play ball with the animals and lead them on leashes. The dogs are rotated between four different run areas so that they can move about freely for 15 to 20 minutes a day. The interaction between inmates and animals makes the animals calmer when people come to visit, and this makes adoptions happen more frequently.
Kinslow stated, “Animal Services has an 89 percent success rate for adoption or rescue.”
Aside from animals with a tendency towards aggressive behavior, the chances of a successful adoption at the facility are very high.
Once every other week, Sheriff Blackman takes photos of the animals and places them on social media, and people from as far away as Maine have come to adopt. “People want a specific type of dog, and they are willing to travel to get it,” Sager said.
The sheriff’s office has made four major changes with Animal Services: increase animal socialization, enhance the appearance of the facility, utilizefree inmate labor and providean opportunity for inmates to learn valuable job skills. The fiscally-responsible program has been a benefit to both animals and inmates and provides an attractive facility that better serves the community.