By Steven Coburn-Griffis

OTTAWA — Last week, the county board of commisioners passed a resolution which will not only provide much needed help at the county recycling center, but do so economically. Inmates from the county jail, non-violent offenders only, will help sort recyclables and, possibly, on occasion, assist county residents as they utilize the center.
Captain Miguel Ortiz, Putnam County Jail administrator, first broached the idea with Sheriff Brian Siefker. With a sign-off from his boss, Ortiz floated the idea with other jail personnel, then drafted a proposal for review by those directly involved in the county’s judicial system — Prosecutor Gary Lammers and Judges Keith Schierloh, Chad Niese, and Michael Borer — before presenting it to the commissioners.

Chief among the details presented was precisely who could participate in the program.
“I came up with a bunch of criteria before they’re eligible,” Ortiz said. “First, of course, you have to be sentenced. No violent crimes, no sex crimes, nothing violent.”
“This is going to work just like a work release program, and we will be the employer,” Commissioner Michael Lammers said of the program. “The due diligence we had to do was check in with our insurance, liability issues, just like if this was an inmate working at Whirlpool through work release. It’s the same kind of a program. As far as compensation, it’s almost looked at, at least from insurance and worker’s compensation, as a community service type function. The inmates can cut their sentences, which benefits them; they’re getting credit toward their sentence, balanced against this community service.”
Explaining the issue of compensation further, Ortiz cited Ohio Revised Code, the ultimate arbiter in such matters.
“They’re not going to get paid, because this is a community service, but they will get a reduced sentence,” he said. “They work so many days, they get so many hours off their sentence.”
As stipulated within ORC, inmates with sentences of 90 days or less will receive a sentence reduction of up to three days for every 30 days worked. For those with a sentence of 91 days to six months, a four day reduction; and for those incarcerated for over six months, a reduction of five days.
While the particulars of how the program will work have yet to be released, Ortiz and Lammers both stated the primary duties of the inmates at the center will be sorting the recyclables. However — while asserting the operation of the program is outside the purview of the commissioners, and solely the responsibility of law enforcement — Lammers expressed the understanding there could be occasions when direct contact with the public is a possibility.
“If they have an individual who has become very trustworthy, and (Reycyling Center Supervisor Joe Hohlbein) is out with them — say there’s a rash of people coming in — he said there might be a person and an occasion where that person would be out helping to inspect,” Lammers said. “Joe is supposed to supervise them if they do have dealings with the public. If he doesn’t like the way they smell, he can fire them. So they have to be on their best behavior.”
As to when the program will be implemented, Ortiz said he’d prefer to put it in place sooner rather than later.
“I would like to start at the end of this month or the beginning of next month,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping to do. According to the commissioners and the recycling plant manager, they need a lot of help out there.”