published Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Bradley County workhouse panel is formed

WORKHOUSE COMMITTEE

• Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford; Finance Chairman Ed Elkins and Law Enforcement Chairman Brian Smith

• Grand jury foreman Alvin Word and grand jury member Tacia Green

• Rich Kienlen, director of misdemeanor probation for Bradley County

• Maj. Jon Collins, Bradley County Sheriff's Office

• State House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, will serve in an ex officio capacity

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Commission recently created a committee to explore setting up a workhouse program as alternative sentencing for misdemeanor offenders.

Earlier this month, county commissioners and judicial officials discussed the costs and benefits of a semipermanent, 128-bed facility to house work-release inmates. The inmates leave for work during the day and return at night. Participating inmates essentially pay room and board during their stays.

As long as the workhouse program makes a profit, it would benefit the county and eligible offenders, supporters said.

"It's a cash generator," Monte Alsup, a representative for Proteus, said at the meeting earlier this month. Proteus provides on-demand facilities for flexible correctional needs.

Commissioner Jeff Yarber said a workhouse program has two advantages: keeping eligible offenders working and reducing incarceration costs.

The committee, appointed by County Mayor D. Gary Davis, will explore a number of issues, including whether the program can generate enough money to offset costs.

Officials also have asked whether a workhouse would fall under the authority of the sheriff's office or the mayor's office, via the Misdemeanor Probations Department.

Another question is whether the program can reduce the inmate population -- currently about 440 -- at the Bradley County Justice Center.

"I think we have to answer the question of whether this program will actually benefit Bradley County," said Sheriff Jim Ruth.

Ruth said he was unsure how many of the jail's current inmates or offenders with outstanding warrants would be eligible for a work-release program.

In the meantime, Ruth said, the county's correction staff -- currently 78 -- is undermanned by 24 officers, according to a recent County Technical Assistance Service survey.

In recent meetings with county commissioners, Ruth said 14 of the 92 positions budgeted to corrections have been assigned by previous sheriffs to services outside corrections. He said simply reassigning those positions to corrections would create other liabilities for the county.

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