published Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

State aims to free felons early and cut jail payments

NASHVILLE—Tennessee would accelerate the release of some felons from state prisons as well as cut payments to Hamilton County and some other counties that house state prisoners under a budget-cutting plan presented Tuesday by the state's prisons chief.

Correction Department Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield told Gov. Bill Haslam, who took office Jan. 15, that the plan would satisfy directives to departments to prepare cuts of 1 to 3 percent.

The 3 percent plan calls for cutting payments to local jails from $35 to $32 per prisoner per day. Schofield said, "This is one where we all kind of share the pain."

"It's tough for everybody," said Schofield, whom Haslam lured away from Georgia where he served as an assistant corrections commissioner and chief of staff. "Naturally, counties will say, 'No we can't do it.'"

The proposal would cut $3.3 million in payments to the 66 local jails that do not have state contracts. The department would have to cut its budget by $12 million under the 3 percent scenario.

Under the 1 percent scenario, the state would extend sentence credits to nearly 2,200 more state prisoners annually, allowing them to reduce their sentences by 60 days if they complete education and other programs aimed at helping them re-enter society.

"It gives them incentive," Schofield said of the proposal, which would save $5.7 million. "It's not a giveaway. It's not like we're opening the door and letting people go...We want our offenders to be better prepared when they get out."

With regard to jail payments, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said the county houses about 45 state inmates at any given time. The proposed $3 reduction would cost the county about $49,000 based on current averages.

"It would hurt us," Hammond said, noting the state already doesn't pay the county its real costs for housing prisoners.

He noted that the new governor's deputy, former Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, fought hard over the years to boost payments to local jails. Asked if he found the situation ironic, Hammond chuckled and suggested a reporter ask Ramsey.

Hammond also said, "If I felt like we were being targeted, I'd be upset about it. But I realize everybody's in the same pot of hot water right now across the state."

Ramsey later said, "I think the governor will look very strongly at anything that adds to the burden of local governments."

Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor, said to "take a step like that I realize is going to be inflicting pain, and that's one of the things I don't want to do."

He said part of the hearing process is to determine "how painful" cuts to all departments would be. He said he continues to wrestle with the possibility of closing the Whiteville Correctional Facility, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

It would save the state about $18 million.

Budget hearings continue today. On Monday, Haslam seemed hesitant to limit lottery-funded scholarships for wealthier Tennesseans to solve shortfalls in the HOPE Scholarship program.

"I don't think we're ready to go there yet," Haslam said. "Let's get another year or two to see if we need to react in some way like that."

The comments came after a session on higher education in which Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan said the lottery program has an $86 million shortfall. At the same time, he said, figures show Tennessee is providing $90 million in scholarships to students who can afford to pay full tuition.

"It's just interesting," said Morgan, who did not endorse specifically means testing for lottery scholarships.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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ann said...

this is very interesting,maybe we will get some common sense laws working again instead of putting everyone in prison ,it is filled with people who did simple crimes that should have cost them a stiff fine,but yet they were sent to prison and then it makes them harden criminals because of the treatment their given by the guards and inmates,it is stupid to be in prison over animals,yes i know we have these people who think they are better than humans,and I'm an animal lover to but it has been carried to far,now you have animal cops that go around looking for people that have not taken care of their animals ,even the people who left their homes because they were made to move and didn't have any place to go let alone take their animal,yet they were charged and put in jail for abandoning them,when the poor people didn't have a place to go ,that makes real good sense,and now that the states don't have money to pay for all this stuff they need to vote or cut half of these places out and desolve them and i hope this state will set the course for others

February 2, 2011 at 1:51 a.m.
dendod said...

What I get from this article is that our new Governor is compassionate and not doing like our last Governor and taking an equal slice from all programs. The past Governor must have never heard of the saying, "women and children first". All that crap about Democrats being the compassionate party is just that, "crap".

February 2, 2011 at 9:22 a.m.
XMarine said...

The biggest criminals are the politicians themselves.Making room for them I hope.

February 2, 2011 at 10:01 a.m.
ceeweed said...

Hey, this plan could work! With mental health services being gutted, we'll need more beds for the mentally ill.

February 3, 2011 at 8:11 a.m.
LibDem said...

Everyone wants criminals to go to jail and serve their full terms. No one wants to pay for the jails or staffs.

(Ann: There are facilities where one can place unwanted pets. Those who abuse helpless animals aren't ready for prime time.)

February 3, 2011 at 9:24 a.m.
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