One-man parole board

Former sheriff wallowed in corruption with inmate's help

How would you like to borrow some inmate labor to get things done around the old farmstead – cheap?

Well, you and your neighbors would never get that kind of deal, but some sheriffs seem to think they can. They seem to view a county jail as a work release program for their benefit.

We’ve seen it in Georgia.
And now former Saluda County, S.C., Sheriff Jason Booth is the latest.

Booth pleaded guilty Monday “to using an inmate to build a party shed, an ornate gate and other items at his home,” the Associated Press reported.

Seeing as how indentured servitude went out years ago, the former sheriff got off pretty easy, too – a $900 fine and probation. He probably won’t be paying any taxes, either, on the “donated” labor.

And even though it was considered but a misdemeanor after a plea deal, this case was much more aggravated than that implies. Says the Associated Press: “Booth allowed the inmate to live in a trailer outside of prison, have conjugal visits with his girlfriend and offered to ask the governor to reduce his sentence, prosecutors said.”

Really? A sheriff, willing to seek leniency in a criminal’s sentence if he helps out around the house?

There’s a word for that, and it starts with “corrupt” and ends with “ion.”

It’s hard to believe that, in this day and age, such blatant malfeasance and breach of the public trust – borrowing inmate labor from jail, like a book from the library – isn’t more serious than the law has recognized in this case.

Nor could the sheriff plead ignorance. From the AP: “Booth knew the rules with inmate labor because in 2005, the state Corrections Department counseled him after a previous problem, said prosecutor Strom Thurmond Jr.”

But later, Booth was entrusted with an inmate who not only was serving 15 years for dealing methamphetamines but who, luckily enough for Booth, was “an expert welder, electrician, engine repairman and handyman.”

The inmate, while digging a pond and working on all those other projects and visiting local restaurants, managed to father a baby and, writes the AP, got to “ride around on a four-wheeler and was taken out of town to visit family.”

This sheriff had created a one-man parole board.

Booth’s attorney, writes the AP, “said his client is only working odd jobs and is heartbroken that he can no longer be in the career he dreamed of since he was a boy.”

The rest of us will be forgiven for not feeling the same way.

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