How do inmates stay out of jail? By learning to build houses, sheriff says

Inmates learn construction skills, build for Habitat for Humanity

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Jared Hainey has been in the Lake County Jail for nine months for drug possession. 

But he spends his days outside of his cell, in the fresh air under sunny skies. He spends six and a half hours a day on construction sites, building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

"It's nice to come out here because you get away from being enclosed in a cage," Hainey said. "And you get to come out and learn new things, see new people."

Lake County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Fred Jones said Hainey volunteered, like all inmates participating in the Lake County Jail's home building program.

"They have to want to do it, we don't force them to do anything," Jones said. "They're staying focused, they get up early in the morning, our thought process is they're going to take that same thought process when they leave here and go out there and get a job."

Jones said all of the inmates participating in construction are low-risk inmates who've been vetted. All of them are supervised on all on the construction sites.

Hainey said his plan is to get a job in construction when he gets out jail.

"I learned a lot more about the building process, like right now we're framing and decking and putting trusses on, stuff I have never done," Hainey said. "Before you get out, you already have that foot up that you're going to be working. And you're already stepping forward and being productive in society and working already."

Jones said inmates often reoffend when they are released because they don't have a job, they don't have skills and they don't have motivation.

 "What I see a lot of time is people get into trouble because they don't have that sense of purpose," Jones said. "I think this gives them some of that."

Inmates doing construction don't receive credit for time served, but they do receive documentation showing the skills they learned and the time they spent.

"If they monitored a master plumber and watched what happened there, if they've done other things, they can take those hours and skills and go to another job site," Jones said. "Now they have purpose, they have a skill, they can go back and give to their community."

Jones said the inmate construction program was the sheriff's idea, born from a challenge.

 "When the sheriff got elected in 2016, he challenged the administrator of the jail to come up with something where the inmates can give back to the community as well as be a part of something special," Jones said.

Ernest "Ernie" Burley is the Habitat for Humanity site supervisor. He acts like the job foreman, teaching the inmates how to build the houses.

"Showing them skills, reading tape measure, hammering, using saws, measuring skills," Burley said.

Burley believes the inmates will easily be able to take their skills to a construction company and get hired quickly because demand for skilled labor is high right now.

"I tell you what, I'd hire these guys tomorrow, they work really good and they're picking up everything nice and quick," he said.

Jones said the program is less than a year old. As more inmates involved in the home-building program are released, Jones said the Sheriff's Office will follow their progress to see if they obtain jobs in construction and if they stay out of jail.

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