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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1951 No. 145 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


Prisoners in county jails may only be compelled to work (1) not more than eight hours a day, (2) on public roads, county buildings and county grounds, (3) designated by the county commissioners, (4) under general rules promulgated by the superior court judges.

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                                                                 October 3, 1951

Honorable John M. Leavitt
Okanogan County Prosecuting Attorney
Okanogan, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 145

Dear Sir:

            You inquire whether

            Prisoners in county jails may be employed by private employers (fruit picking) outside the jails.

            We conclude they may not.


            The sheriffs of county jails are public officials who, under bond, are responsible for the proper care and custody of those committed to their charge.  Their authority is limited to the directions of the commitment orders,

            "* * * The custodian of the prisoner upon receiving a commitment can do only what the commitment orders him to do, that is, receive and safely keep the prisoner, so that the latter may be thence discharged in due course of law.  He has no power to increase the severity of the punishment assessed by the court except as prescribed by law.  He must keep the prisoners at the jail and not elsewhere, * * *" 41 Am.Jur. 892; see also 1945 AGO 376 (October 10, 1945).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            unless legislatively authorized to do otherwise.  Rem. Rev. Stat. § 2279 (P.P.C. § 112-51), provides:

            "The sheriff of each county shall employ all male persons sentenced to imprisonment in the county jail thereof in such manner and at such places within the county as may be directed by the board of county commissioners of such county."

            The above statute is, of course, limited by Rem. Rev. Stat. § 10190 (P.P.C. § 134-71), providing:

            "When a person has been sentenced, by a justice of the peace, or a judge of the superior court, to a term of imprisonment in the county jail, whether in default of payment of a fine or costs, or otherwise, such person may be compelled to work eight hours each day of such term in and about the county buildings, public roads, streets and grounds:  Provided, this section and the last preceding one of this chapter shall not apply to persons committed in default of bail."

            Construing these statutes together, prisoners in county jails may be compelled by the sheriff to work (1) not more than eight hours a day, (2) on public roads, county buildings, and county grounds, (3) at places designated by county commissioners which would include within the county jail itself (kitchen, etc.), (4) under general regulations promulgated by the superior court judges.  Rem. Rev. Stat. § 10191 (P.P.C. § 680-1).  Prisoners committed on default of bail must remain in jail.

            Such prisoners are working for the county ‑ their work is in part considered a penal result of their crime and in part to compensate the county for the expense of their keep.

            When a valid city-county contract is entered by the proper ordinance procedure, city and county prisoners may be compelled to work on "public works" as are designated by the "legislative authority of the city or town, and the county commissioners."  Rem. Rev. Stat. § 10206 (P.P.C. § 680-37-39).  No prisoner may be worked prior to his conviction.  Rem. Rev. Stat. § 10208 (P.P.C. § 680-41).

            Prisoners committed in lieu of fine may serve it out at the rate of $3.00 per day.  The clerk of the court shall issue a warrant to the sheriff so ordering.  Rem. Rev. Stat. § 2206 (P.P.C. § 134-31).  If such a prisoner actually works, which he  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] may be compelled to do, he is entitled to another $2.00 per day for each eight-hour day of work.  This amount also is to be taken off his fine.  Rem. Rev. Stat. § 2209 (P.P.C. § 134-37).

            Where a prisoner is committed to the county jail for the non-support of his family, he may also be compelled to work on the public roads and other public projects, also at places designated by the county commissioners and under rules promulgated by the superior court judges.  However, for this work the county is required at the end of each calendar month to pay $1.50 per day to the prisoner's wife or to the guardian or custodian of his children.  Rem. Rev. Stat. § 6910 (P.P.C. § 115-3).

            We therefore conclude

            (1) County prisoners may only work

            (a)when there is no contract with the city:  only on county buildings, property or public roads designated by the county commissioners under rules promulgated by the superior court judges;

            (b)when a bona fide contract with the city exists:  on public projects designated by the legislative body of the city and the county commissioners under rules designated by the superior court judges.

            (2) Prisoners not yet convicted may not be compelled to work.

            (3) The benefit of such work is a reimbursement to the county for its expense and is a part of the penal nature resulting from the crime committed.

            (4) Prisoners committed in lieu of fines may serve but their fine at the rate of $3.00 per day.  If compelled to work, the further amount of $2.00 per day is deducted from their fine.

            (5) The county is required to pay $1.50 per day to the family of a prisoner convicted for non-support [[nonsupport]].

            The locations and conditions of work of all county prisoners are governed by the above limitations.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            There is absolutely no authority for working county prisoners other than within the limitations above outlined.  Doing so is a serious matter, see State v. Kilgore (Sheriff), Grays Harbor County No. 42789.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General