Ottawa County road crews are getting some much-needed assistance from local jail inmates.

After the flood county employees found themselves overwhelmed by the amount of debris left behind. In a joint effort between the county commissioners and the sheriff's office, an inmate work crew was developed to aid in the cleanup of flood debris.

The project was so successful, a permanent work crew program was created, according to county officials.

“We hired a commissioned deputy that supervises a crew of about six inmates every day,” said Undersheriff Bob Ernst. “The crew works with the commissioners on whatever project they need manual labor.”

Heath Potter was assigned to supervise the inmates. According to Ernst, he has spent the past two years working as a jail supervisor. As part of his employment agreement, Heath is required to complete a law enforcement training academy and is scheduled to begin the course later this year.

“We are working it so he can attend in the winter months when the crews won't be working as often,” Ernst said.

Unlike the inmate crew projects in the past, this is the first time Ottawa County has established a full-time inmate work crew, according to Ernst.

“These guys work at least eight hours a day, five days a week,” Ernst said. “During fair week, they worked seven days a week.”

In accordance with an Oklahoma Department of Corrections regulation, inmates who volunteer for work duty are paid with “good time” credit to their sentence or a reduction in fines and costs.

“It works good for everyone,” Ernst said. “The county commission gets to free up trained equipment operators to do their job so they can be more productive.”

It also gets these inmates outside for several hours every day, which cuts down on the number of incidents within the jail, according to Ernst.

“They come back feeling productive and too tired to be a problem,” Ernst said.

Inmates are prohibited from consideration for work detail if they are considered violent offenders, have escapes or attempted escapes on their record or are not medically approved to perform the duties.