Members of the Clallam County Chain Gang clear vegetation from guard rails on Deer Park Road Monday. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office plans to add a third chain gang. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Members of the Clallam County Chain Gang clear vegetation from guard rails on Deer Park Road Monday. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office plans to add a third chain gang. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam eyes third chain gang with grant

New county group would consist of female inmates

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office is getting another chain gang after receiving a $200,000 grant from the state Department of Ecology.

The funding reimburses salary and benefits for a corrections deputy and for the purchase of another vehicle through June 2021, officials told the Board of County Commissioners on Monday.

Administrative Sgt. Don Wenzl told commissioners that the new chain gang — the third in the county’s fleet — would focus on litter and dump sites close to city limits and that it would be the first female chain gang “as long as we have the numbers to support it.”

“This one we want to designate strictly to do litter, cleanup and dump sites,” Wenzl said. “[Ecology was] impressed with our numbers over the past several grants and awarded us almost triple the normal amount we get and they gave us enough money to purchase a vehicle.”

Since July 1, 2017, jail inmates have cleaned more than 407.5 miles of road and cleaned more than 96 acres of garbage at more than 376 dump sites.

Crews have recycled more than 1,194 pounds of materials, picked more than 22,470 pounds of litter from roads and picked up more than 273,730 pounds of garbage from dump sites.

Wenzl said this year crews have demolished “over a couple dozen” RVs.

Wenzl said the grant would be used to purchase a Ford Transit van, which he said would be easier to maneuver through more populated areas. He hopes to buy the van in the coming months.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict told commissioners that the jail has enough female inmates to support having an all-women chain gang, but that there could be some logistical issues.

Some of those “logistical issues” include making accommodations for supervision, restroom needs while working and had having enough women in the jail that are willing and eligible to participate, Benedict said.

He said at any given time there are between 20 and 35 women in the jail.

He said the third chain gang would likely start with men, but eventually transition to women.

Commissioner Mark Ozias said he is “fully supportive” of taking the steps to have a female chain gang and urged Benedict to let commissioners know if there are any extra costs the county needs to cover.

Benedict told commissioners that those participating in the program are no longer shackled while they are working. There also aren’t any chains.

“That was a decision that I made because I thought the risk of escaping was less than the potential of someone injuring themselves,” Benedict said. “If someone does run off, I don’t think they’ll be a danger to the community.”

He recalled one attempted escape while inmates were shackled, but a helicopter from the U.S. Coast Guard quickly found the man and he surrendered.

For most inmates, the chain gang is an opportunity to get out of the jail, have time taken off their sentence and clean up their community.

“We get a lot of inmates who want to get that experience on the chain gang, whether they want to get their ‘good time’ or they want to have that work experience,” Wenzl said. “A lot of them do feel accomplishment getting out there and helping in the community.”

With “good time,” inmates can have have up to a third of their sentence reduced, Wenzl said.

Wenzl said inmates take pride in their work on the chain gang and that it helps them earn time off their sentence. He told commissioners about one inmate who helped clean one of his former dump sites.

He said inmates also use their experience on the chain gang to help them get jobs after they are released from jail.

“We figure if they’re proud enough to put that down as job experience we’ll gladly back them on that,” Wenzl said. “We do get a lot that come in and we know how good of a worker they are, but unfortunately they can’t stay out of trouble and we’ll get them back to work as soon as we can.”

________

Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

Members of the Clallam County Chain Gang clear vegetation from guard rails on Deer Park Road on Monday. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office plans to add a third chain gang. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Members of the Clallam County Chain Gang clear vegetation from guard rails on Deer Park Road on Monday. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office plans to add a third chain gang. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Members of the Clallam County Chain Gang clear vegetation from guard rails on Deer Park Road on Monday. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office plans to add a third chain gang. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Members of the Clallam County Chain Gang clear vegetation from guard rails on Deer Park Road on Monday. The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office plans to add a third chain gang. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

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