Ashley Rodrigue / Eyewitness News
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ST. TAMMANY-As employees at Keith Young's Steakhouse in Madisonville prepared for a busy lunch hour Friday, the owners were still working to fill sudden vacant positions.

That's because the state inmates who had those jobs, through North Shore Workforce, a transitional work program tied to the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office, were back in jail due to the program's closure Thursday.

'It's hard just to keep certain back of the house positions filled all the time and you don't have the luxury of just keeping people on a part time basis,' said Keith Young.

Jimmie Martin, with B&J Martin Offshore, who also uses work release programs through other sheriff's offices, is in the same boat. 'We had to shut down three vessels completely until we get people.'

Sheriff Jack Strain shut down the Covington facility following a series of investigative reports by Eyewitness News questioning the security and safety of the facility due to a number of escapes, as well as whether the program was properly following Department of Corrections policies.A D.O.C. spokesperson says it was also looking into non-compliance issues at the facility.

One business owner didn't agree with the outcome.

Martin said, 'My opinion of that is, you're not going to shut down Angola if an inmate escapes from Angola are you?'

The other said issues were evident.

'Do you throw the baby out with the bath water?' asked Young. 'You try and fix the program, and I think that's very important.'

Because the program involves minor offenders, with varying times left on their sentences, Strain and the D.O.C. are working to figure out the placement and/or reassignment of the almost 200 inmates affected, which could include new work release programs elsewhere.

Both businesses say they hope a fix is found soon and the program is re-opened.

'I hope it's resolved at 1 o'clock today so we can get our people back and continue working,' said Martin.

'Hey, there's bad apples in anything, but you learn and you go forward,' said Young.

The Department of Corrections says the only other Transitional Work Program ever closed was in Lafayette in 2008.In that case, the D.O.C. canceled its contract with the company, not affiliated with the sheriff, because it was not properly accounting for money in offender accounts.
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