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Inmate Welfare Fund to ease burden on taxpayers

October 10, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The next time Washington County prisoners reach for a Slim Jim or flip on HBO, don't worry. You're not paying for it, Sheriff's Department officials said this week.

Maryland lawmakers recently passed an act that allows correctional facilities to set up an Inmate Welfare Fund for the benefit of those locked up.

The counties' budget directors oversee the funds, which mainly come from dollars that inmates spend at the jail's commissary. The law, which was sponsored by Anne Arundel County senators, went into effect Oct. 1.

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The Washington County Commissioners last week transferred $30,000 in telephone commissions to the Inmate Welfare Fund to get it started, Paula Blenard of the county's budget and finance department said.

A similar inmate welfare fund has been in place in Washington County for years, but the Detention Center, not the county, has had direct control over the money, Sheriff's Department officials said.

Bradley White, the Detention Center's commissary clerk, said that each time an inmate spends his or her own money for a bag of cheese curls, an oatmeal pie or any of the other 192 snacks, drinks or personal hygiene items available at the commissary, those dollars are put into the welfare fund.

The welfare fund is used to pay for inmates' jumpsuits, bedding, sports equipment, movies shown at the jail twice a week and other items that would benefit their well-being, White said.

"It's basically anything that applies to the inmates' welfare," Capt. Douglas Mullendore said.

"You got to give them something to do while they're locked up all day," Sheriff Charles F. Mades said.

Lt. M. Van Evans, warden of the detention center, said the fund occasionally pays for bus tickets for inmates who recently got out of jail.

"That saves the community from having them standing downtown on the street corner," Evans said.

White, who said the fund finished 2001 with a $41,523 profit, also said the fund prevents taxpayers from footing the bill.

The commissary recorded $235,000 in sales in 2001, White said.

County Commissioner Bert Iseminger said he didn't know much about the fund, but that he's glad the county is overseeing it.

"You need oversight in that fund to make sure it's properly administered," he said. "And it saves the taxpayers' money, so that's a good thing."

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