TCSO: Inmate work crews end after drug theft

Posted at 10:39 PM, Dec 04, 2015

The impact of a drug theft by an unsupervised inmate at the Tulsa County Sheriff's office continues with the inmate work program ending and a TCSO staff member disciplined.

For decades, Tulsa county inmates have participated in a work program doing everything from lawn work, to construction, carpentry and more at county facilities. The program was popular saving taxpayers money and teaching inmates skills. But after inmate Justin Preibe was accused of using that freedom to get drugs from a storage location, the program came under scrutiny. It was halted Thursday by Chief Deputy John Bowman.

"The risks far outweigh the benefits at this point," Bowman said.

He said the internal an investigation opened their eyes to even more risks and he issued a memo notifying staff of the changes.

"We've been put on notice that there are some problems."

Sergeant Chris Pierce, who oversaw the work program for years, received discipline for the leaving the inmate unsupervised, according to Bowman. The exact punishment is not clear, but it did not include a suspension or loss of pay.

"Part of the things we found out is that we're probably asking the people who manage that program to do too much," Bowman said.

With the county losing the inmate labor, Bowman said they'll need to find room in the budget to hire civilian workers. That process will take time, but Bowman said this episode may be a blessing in disguise for preventing more serious issues.

"During brief times when inmates were left alone, we have women who work in this building and sometimes they're in an area that has no deputy or no detention officer with it and we figured they might be put at risk," he said.

The new sheriff to be elected in the spring will have the choice to review the inmate work program, but at this point Bowman said he will not recommend reinstating it even though it continued without issue for many years. He said times have changed and it is no longer worth the risk.

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