Kandiyohi County inmates giving service one park cabin at a time
The Kandiyohi County Sentence to Serve program is helping build seven rental cabins on the shore of the lake at Games Lake County Park. Two of the cabins are complete and will be available for rent.
WILLMAR — Nestled in the snow amongst the trees on the shore of Games Lake within the Kandiyohi County park sit two small cabins. Newly built, they will soon be available for rent and will provide visitors opportunity for expanded fun at the lake.
The cabins, the first of a planned seven, have a unique origin story. They weren't built by a construction crew hired by the county or even by county public works staff. Instead they were built through the county's Sentence to Serve program. Participants of the program have been sentenced to jail time or community service and are paying their debt to society in a different way than just sitting in a jail cell.
"They are working off jail days, community services or fines and fees," said Brian Nelson, program coordinator.
The cabins are located on land the county added to the park in 2017. The parcel had a house already on it, but the county decided to tear it down and build the cabins instead. County administration contacted Kandiyohi County Community Corrections to see if the Sentence to Serve program would be interested in helping build the structures.
The cabins are probably the most complicated project the Sentence to Serve program has undertaken. Inmates and other participants also pick up recycling, remove snow, mow lawns, build recycling boxes, change the oil in county vehicles and even plant and harvest a garden for the Kandiyohi County Food Shelf.
"It is amazing how much work they do," said Tami Jo Lieberg, Kandiyohi County Community Corrections director. "We have a very unique program."
In partnership with Kandiyohi County Public Works, Nelson and crew leader Chad Kluver designed the cabins. The road and infrastructure were completed first in the spring, then work on the cabins really got going.
The crews worked on nearly every inch of those cabins, from the foundations to the lights. The interiors of the cabins are knotty pine. Each includes two bunk beds, a small table, lights and hooks. The cabins also have electricity and heat, as well as air conditioning in the summer.
Nelson determined who worked on the cabin project. He assigns each individual to a project crew based on a variety of factors including skills and risk. Juveniles and adults are kept in separate crews.
"We use our best judgment," Nelson said.
While some chosen to be on the cabin building crews had prior construction and carpentry skills, for others it was a totally new experience.
"It gives them the opportunity to learn a new skill," Lieberg said.
For the inmates in the jail, being allowed on a work crew is a privilege.
"They get the opportunity to do cool things," Nelson said. "It is such a positive thing."
Lieberg said her staff have to deal with a variety of issues, yet still treat each person with dignity.
"They respect the individual and they are invested in them," Lieberg said. "My staff is just amazing."
Nelson and Kluver have had crew members go on to jobs in construction and concrete. Crew supervisors will give successful program participants references to help them secure employment after their sentence has been served.
"It gives them a shot," Lieberg said.
Instrumental to the program's continued success has been the support of the Kandiyohi County Board. Not only does the program save the county money, since the crews do work that the county would normally have to pay for, but the board also sees the good it does for the people involved.
"The County Board is so behind us," Nelson said.
The Sentence to Serve is a win-win. It gives those convicted of a crime a way to not only serve their sentence and the community but also potentially build skills for a new life. It also provides the county and its residents cost-effective services and, in this case, new recreational opportunities.
"It is going to be beneficial to the people, the county and the park itself," Nelson said.