CATEGORY: Lee County

AUTHOR: GIBSON

HED:Sheriff's work center opens in time for holidays

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Several Lee County residents are counting their blessings today that they had friends and family to help them pay off delinquent court fines.

The Lee County Sheriff's Department work center officially opened its doors Wednesday and deputies began filling it, arresting people on outstanding justice court warrants.

The work center gives the county a place to house misdemeanor offenders who have failed to pay their fines. Before the old jail building was renovated, jail beds were dedicated to more serious offenders.

By Wednesday afternoon, five people had been arrested on warrants and booked into the work center at the former county jail on Front Street, Sheriff Harold Ray Presley said.

Two of them had already paid their fines, a combined total of more than $1,200.

The other three inmates are not expected to stay overnight in the 80-bed facility, Presley said. They were all awaiting the arrival of money to pay their fines.

More to come

Deputies will be delivering the justice court arrest warrants through the holidays, Presley said.

"If they owe a fine, they'd better pay it because we're coming after them," he said.

County officials estimate there are more than $900,000 in delinquent justice court fines to be collected, Presley said.

Presley estimated 75 percent of those with outstanding fines will pay when faced with jail by night and cleaning up county roads by day.

"It may take us awhile to get up a work crew," Presley said.

Picking up litter along county roads is at the top of the to-do list for future work center inmates, Presley said.

Inmates on work details will be credited $50 a day toward the payment of their fines, Davis said.

"They can pay it or they can work the fines off," Presley said. "There's a lot of trash out there to be picked up."

Using inmate labor, the sheriff's department was able to renovate the old jail for a little more than $50,000. The initial estimate of the work was $96,000.

Eventually, the county plans to house 26 minimum-security state prisoners who have already been convicted and sentenced.

They will be housed separately from the misdemeanor inmates paying off fine, but will also work on public projects around the county.

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