One way for inmates to help offset the cost of their detention is through an inmate manual labor program administered by Captain Chris Moehle, the Camden County jail administrator. Not everybody can qualify.

A common misconception regarding time spent in incarceration is that taxpayers foot the whole the cost of an inmate’s stay.

And although tax dollars are used to fund law enforcement and detention services that doesn’t mean inmates, whether pre-adjudication or post-conviction, aren’t handed a bill once they leave.

“People think it’s a free ride to stay in this jail,” Camden County Sheriff Tony Helms said on Wednesday. “If you’re convicted it’s $45 a day. A lot of pre-trial detainees, now we go backwards, because giving them time doesn’t mean anything. They want the money, a clean bill. I don’t know anyone who’s gotten a clean bill, but they’ve gotten close.”

One way for inmates to help offset the cost of their detention is through an inmate manual labor program administered by Captain Chris Moehle, the Camden County jail administrator. Not everybody can qualify.

“They have step processes. They have to be under a certain crime, can’t just say 'I want to do this.' They have to qualify and have processes that they have to go through,” Helms explained. “The captain can make exceptions for certain things. It depends on the nature of the crime, we review their records. I try not to micromanage.”

Within the last two months, several inmates have assisted Scott’s Concrete in a renovation project at the detention center involving several areas of deteriorating flooring, walls and appliances in the kitchen and laundry rooms.

In total the cost of the project was approximately $35,000, roughly $25,000 less than Sheriff Helms had estimated when Moehle first approached him to explain the need for the renovations.

“Scott’s Concrete came up here and looked at it, shot us a heck of a price and the way we were able to afford it through the budget was to have inmates work,” Helms said. “As you know this building was opened in 1999. Everything wears out. We’ve been fighting the coolers and freezers. The floor is like a non-slip epoxy. It had worn down, it looked dirty, if you spilled on there it stained. It just looked nasty all the time.”

Inmates assisted in removing old concrete, sanding it down and applying a three coat painting process for the new floor. They also assisted in cleaning out the old coolers and freezers and putting up new walls while Springfield Grocers provided a freezer truck to store their food for nearly a month while the work was being completed. The sheriff’s office had previously used inmate labor to construct a new building at its firing range on Route A last summer.

“The renovations had to happen. Things deteriorate, they wear out. They don’t last forever,” Helms said.

Helms said the department does not ask judges to reduce sentences, but merely asks them to compensate the inmates for time worked by writing a letter to confirm the inmates work schedule. Although Helms did state some inmates in the past had received reduced sentencing while working at the detention center.

“It’s productive for everybody,” Helms concluded. “I’d rather have them doing something than sitting on their butts doing nothing.”