By Doug Ireland
---- — When a Rockingham County jail inmate was charged with stealing drugs from the East Kingston Police Department evidence room, it cast a shadow over the jail’s work program.
But local police officials, who question how that could have been allowed to happen, say the “trusty program” saves their towns thousands of dollars a year and is a valuable community resource.
It also helps rehabilitate nonviolent inmates so they can successfully re-enter society, police said.
For that reason, the program — shuttered for several weeks while it was re-evaluated — is continuing, jail superintendent Stephen Church said.
Rockingham County Attorney James Reams announced last week that inmate Jarred Brisbois, 20, was indicted by a grand jury on burglary, heroin possession and smuggling charges.
Brisbois, previously convicted of theft, was left unsupervised at the police station in May and broke into the evidence room while participating in the inmate work program.
He faces up to seven years in prison on each of the three felony charges for stealing heroin and trying to bring some of it back to the jail. Police also said Brisbois used some of the drugs, which included marijuana, at the station.
Some Southern New Hampshire police officials whose departments use the inmate work program say what happened in East Kingston was an isolated incident that is not a true reflection of the program’s value.
The program involves nearly 40 of the roughly 300 inmates at the county jail. They work from two days to five days a week at seven police departments and the Rockingham County complex, including the nursing home, Church said.
The workers are carefully screened and have not been convicted of serious, violent crimes, Church said. They usually have driving and drug-related convictions, he said.
“It’s all about inmate classification,” said Church, who has worked at the jail for 25 years, including three as superintendent.
Over the years, Church said there have been few problems — with the exception of Brisbois — involving inmates.
But when the allegations against Brisbois surfaced, Church said, the Department of Corrections took a close look at the program and concluded that all guidelines had been followed by his office. He said additional training will take place to ensure similar problems don’t occur.
He declined to comment on what happened at the East Kingston police station, saying it remains under investigation.
East Kingston police Chief Richard Simpson and Cpl. Mark Iannuccillo were placed on paid leave by the town, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. Former Methuen, Mass., police Chief Bruce MacDougall is now overseeing the department.
Police departments benefit
Eight inmates work for the Kingston, Plaistow, Atkinson, Hampstead, Epping and Fremont police departments, where they perform chores such as cleaning the station and helping to wash and maintain police cruisers, Church said.
Many of the approximately 30 other inmates who participate in the program spend their time at the nursing home — performing routine maintenance, mowing the grass, washing dishes and doing laundry, he said. They earn $1 a day.
“They do a whole lot of work,” Church said. “(The program) has been very successful for years. It’s been successful for the inmates, it’s been successful for the municipalities and it’s been successful for the county.”
County Commissioner Thomas Tombarello of Sandown said the program has been a cost-effective asset to the county.
The program has helped the cash-strapped county and towns substantially reduce their maintenance budgets, Church said. Most important of all, he said, it’s helped motivate inmates and prepare them for entering the workforce upon release.
People need to realize that these same inmates — serving sentences of less than a year — will soon be out of jail and working in their local store or elsewhere, he said.
“You try to reintegrate them into the community,” Church said. “They are going to be turned back into your community.”
Local police officials agree successfully introducing inmates back into the community is an important part of the program.
One of its biggest supporters is Kingston police Chief Donald Briggs, who helped found the program.
“I’ve been using a trusty since 1994,” he said. “It’s saved the town of Kingston a lot of money in the last 20 years.”
Briggs said he is very selective when screening candidates, choosing inmates with a good attitude, whom he believes he can trust.
“If I feel the individual is not going to work here, they don’t come,” he said. “The people who come here want to be here. I try to work with these individuals to try to rehabilitate them and not go back into that same environment.”
They are closely supervised while performing maintenance duties around the police department, he said.
That’s also the case at the Hampstead police station, where inmates work two days a week, Lt. John Frazier said.
“We are very happy with it,” he said. “As long as the system is available, we will certainly participate.”
Briggs and Frazier said they can’t explain what occurred in East Kingston, saying it wouldn’t happen in their departments. Brisbois also is alleged to have driven a police cruiser without supervision.
“We never had issues, ever,” Frazier said. “But, at the same time, they are closely supervised. ... We don’t even allow them to move the cruisers.”
Positive impact reported
Once they are released from jail, some inmates even stop by the Kingston police station to say hi, Briggs said.
They appreciate the opportunity they received working for the department, he said, as opposed to spending each day of their sentence behind bars.
“They leave here and they have a different outlook on life and law enforcement,” Briggs said.
Plaistow Deputy police Chief Kathleen Jones agreed. She said her department has used inmates for approximately five years and is pleased with their work, which includes mowing the grass.
“It’s been a great program for us,” she said. “They had been a big bonus to us.”
The inmates often wash police cruisers, so the officers can focus on tasks more important than keeping their cars clean, she said.
“It seems to be a waste of time for an officer to wash and wipe down their cruiser,” she said. “I would rather pay them to be out patrolling.”
Sometimes, she said, inmates leave a really good impression.
“People make mistakes — it happens,” Jones said. “We’ve met a lot of really good people through this program.”
Jones remembers one inmate who became so popular at the station, they were sorry to see him leave once it was time for him to be released.
“The officers actually pitched in and bought him a present,” she said.