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Volunteer work at jail benefits inmates, city

Inmates at the Tahlequah City Jail can perform various tasks on the property in what is called “beneficial” to them, and the city.

Tahlequah Police Lt. Dexter Scott said inmates can now mow, weed eat, pick up trash, and more since the jail reopened last month.

“About a year ago I was moved to my current position as a training coordinator and helping with the jail. When I moved, I would come in and talk to the inmates for various reasons, and it was always asked of me if there was something [the inmates] could do to pass time instead of sitting in their cell,” Scott said.

Scott said he noticed the grass needed to be mowed at jail and asked Tahlequah Municipal Judge Rachel Dallis if inmates could work on maintaining that.

“I see people that come in from time to time and they want to mow and weed eat. It helps with the city as far as crews mowing and I’m not saying they didn’t do a good job. I know they’re extremely busy and this just helps them out,” he said.

Maintaining the landscape at the jail is also beneficial to the inmates as Scott said he could tell it relieves stress, depression, and anxiety.

“It may teach them some work ethic and I’ve actually referred some of the inmates to some of the companies around this area,” Scott said. “Each inmate has their own way of looking at it but for us, it helps keep our facilities nice and it gets the inmates out of a cell.”

Tahlequah’s jail houses inmates who have been charged with misdemeanor offenses by a TPD officer, along with tribal members who have been charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses, due to the jail contract with Cherokee Nation.

There is a criteria to be met for inmates who are interested in volunteering and Scott said it’s inmates who have been sentenced to days to the jail.

“Obviously you have to show [me] that you’re willing to work. Past history, I look at that as far as somebody that I’ve had in here before that may have caused some type of issue. Everything is taken into consideration,” Scott said.

Scott will stay out with the inmates who are volunteering where he can always keep a visual on them. He said he hasn’t had an inmate try to “escape” while they’re outside and he doesn’t believe one would.

“Our facility can hold you for 10 days, that’s the maximum we can hold you. I express to them that these 10 days are 10 days and if they want to try to escape, that’s a possibility of packing on 10 years,” he said.

Each inmate who volunteers is searched before going outside the jail and a second time before they reenter the jail.

Scott said the inmates are given multiple breaks to cool off and that’s a time when the officers and them can connect.

“We talked to them, we related to them, and maybe they gained a little trust back in law enforcement. We talked about personal stuff; their kids; their goals; and how we can help them,” he said.

Scott reiterated that each inmate who is performing such tasks within the jail is volunteering and they’re not someone who is being forced to work.

“It’s all volunteer and no one is forced to do it. If I come in and no one wants mow, then I'll do it myself,” he said.


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