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Despite recent walk aways, Humboldt County inmate work crews to continue

EUREKA- Humboldt County inmate work crews have been used throughout the county since the 1980s, and will continue to be, despite two inmate walk aways last week.

"I get calls almost every day requesting these guys somewhere because of how hard they work and what they do," said Sgt. Mitch Gratz with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.

The City of Eureka contracts the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office work crews to clean up homeless encampments on the waterfront and the surrounding areas.  Every Thursday, you can see the work crews cleaning up these areas rain or shine.

Eureka city officials say the parks and recreation department needs the help cleaning these parts of the city.

"We have six total Parks staff members for the entire city and we have three total Harbor staff members.  With that level of staffing, there's no way we can do it.  We can get an inmate work crew which is eight to 10 staff which is more than combined both of our staff members and get a lot of work done," said Miles Slattery, the Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Eureka.

One precaution the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office takes to prevent inmates from walking away is the inmate screening process.

"You have some felonies in there, but non violent felonies...  Also, just their history in jail.  What type of inmate they are... Also, psychological evaluations.  Any guys on mental health drugs or anything like that, he's not eligible to go outside," Sgt. Gratz said.

But still, there have been 11 inmates who walked away from work crews in the last 10 years.  The two escapees from last week, Brian McSilvers and James Henry, Jr., are the only ones who have not been caught.

"You had one guy that had eight days left in custody.  That would be a perfect guy that would never run from a jail crew, but yet he did," said Sgt. Gratz.

“The only thing we would probably do when these types of things happen is to heighten the awareness of the officers who are in charge of these crews, making sure that this doesn't happen again," said Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey.

Officials say work crews have always had one correctional officer assigned to supervise the inmates.

"Their main job is supervision.  Unfortunately, in some areas we go, you can't see every single inmate.  And the fact of the matter is, if you have ten inmates and one of them runs away, those officers are trained to call EPD and report it, because he can't leave his other 7 or eight inmates," Sgt. Gratz said.