Chief Deputy Dan Kontos said the term “chain gang” is only a euphemism, and inmates would not actually be chained together.
By Jacob Mathias
While often seen in prison escape films, the chain gang is not a common sight on Portage County roads- but they soon could be.
At a Portage County Public Safety/Emergency Management Committee meeting on Wednesday, Portage County Sheriff Mike Lukas announced his office is in the process of instituting a chain gang program for some of its inmates.
“It was talked about years ago. I know that other surrounding counties have used it,” said Lukas. “I just felt that we have a lot of beautiful countryside roads that can use some cleanup and I think that what we can do is offer these non-violent inmates who don’t have jobs [and] are in our Huber facility an opportunity get out, clean the roads, do some community service and reduce some jail time by doing this.”
Portage County Board Chairman Phil Idsvoog said it’s the first he’s heard of a chain gang being used in the county.
“If you can make people do something productive I’m all for that,” said Idsvoog.
Lukas said every eight hours of community service performed by an inmate will count as one day of jail time.
The state’s Huber Law allows county jail inmates to leave confinement for their job or to seek employment, but only if they meet certain requirements.
“We’re not putting out violent offenders. We’re putting out people that actually could be out in the community working if they had jobs. But they don’t have jobs,” said Lukas. “This is just an opportunity to be out there and be productive.”
“These are inmates we’d let out the front door to go to work every day and they’d come back when the job is done. It’s those kind of offenders that’ll be out there,” said Chief Deputy Dan Kontos.
Lukas said the crews will work in groups of 5-6 inmates with one sheriff’s deputy for supervision. The chain gangs will wear bright orange vests that reading “inmate”, he said, and signs will be posted along roadways indicating an inmate work zone and instructing traffic not to stop.
Kontos said there are no additional costs to institute the program and the number of chain gangs will depend on total inmates and supervisor availability.
Kontos also said the term “chain gang” is a euphemism, and inmates would not actually be chained together. But in a reference to chain gang movies of the 1970’s, he also joked Sheriff Lukas would consider donning mirrored glasses and overseeing the work crews from horseback.
The next Public Safety/Emergency Management Committee meeting is June 24 at 7 AM.