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Franklin County Inmates Work At Area Dog Shelter

Mandie Trimble
Franklin Co. Inmate Samantha Register dries laundry at the Franklin Co. Dog Shelter. The work is part of a new program for female inmates.

It seems work at the Franklin County Dog Shelter is never done. But some unlikely workers help lighten the load. We recently visited the shelter where county jail inmates now work five days a week.

A large mound of colorful towels and blankets are piled halfway up the wall in a laundry room at the Franklin County Dog Shelter. That pile is only the beginning. There are a half dozen 55-gallon drums filled with soiled laundry in the hallway that needs to be washed.

“All we have is two washers and one dryer, so we’re always waiting for one dryer to get done," said county inmate Samantha Register who works at the dog shelter five hours a day.

The work program, offered to some female inmates, began last month.

“We basically wash, dry and fold. And we have these 10 shelves that we totally stack," she said. "These were pretty much full when we left at 2 o’clock yesterday. As you see now they’re empty. I mean, they use quite a bit of blankets.”

The work doesn’t stop in the laundry room. Inmates wash the dog bowls in large commercial dishwashers. They also sweep, mop and clean windows and doors, as well as prep medicine dispensers.

For Register, though, it’s not all work.

“It feels good to give back, and it sort of humbles you a little bit. And I’m also a dog lover, so I’m in heaven,” she said. 

Franklin County Dog Shelter Executive Director Kaye Dickson ran a similar work program with prison inmates at a dog shelter in Arizona.

“When I got here one of the first things I did was talk to staff and ask what are your challenges and look at the budget. And I realized immediately there were some things that we could possibly use inmate labor for," Dickson said. 

For now, the program is only offered to non-violent, female offenders in jail for at least 30 days. Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott said women were chosen for the job because male inmates already have work programs.

“It gives them a sense of accomplishment," Scott said. "And we’re hoping it cuts down on recidivism.”

Dickson said the inmates express a sense of pride helping the community by working at the shelter. And while the program gives the inmates time away from the jail cell, they pick up other skills. 

“We’re teaching them how to use this commercial equipment. It’s not just your regular household equipment. So it does take some knowledge and some skills," Dickson said. "It teaches them a little bit about time management and prioritizing because sometimes you have to change those things up a little bit. And it gives them an opportunity to work with the dogs a little bit at the end of the day. And they just seem very grateful while they’re here.”

Like the work crews who clean the local freeways, the inmates who work at the dog shelter are not paid, and a sheriff’s deputy must supervise them. The program may save the county some money by replacing full-time kennel assistants with jail inmates, but Dickson said a hard dollar figure is tough to get at.

“If there were times that somebody had called off, something got neglected. So it’s more than just saving the money, too. They’re saving time and we’re just making a more efficient use of our resources," she said. 

For Inmate Samantha Register, of Ashtabula, she may stay in Franklin County after she’s released next month. And she hopes she may have a job waiting for her.

“From my understanding we could get a letter of recommendation and possibly a job here if they like our work. So it’s kind of like a working interview," Register said. "I hope to proceed more than doing laundry because that doesn’t take a lot of brains to do laundry, so I want more hands on with the dogs.”

Three inmates currently are involved in the program, but Dickson said there’s room to expand as more eligible inmates become available.