published Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Volunteers helping Marion County Jail inmates

Marion County Commissioner Gene Hargis
Marion County Commissioner Gene Hargis
Photo by Ben Benton /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JASPER, Tenn. — Nine out of 10 prisoners at the Marion County Jail at any given time are returning offenders, and for the past year a group of dedicated volunteers has been working to change that.

The jail's chaplain, Pastor Lloyd Harvill of Guild First Baptist Church in Guild, Tenn., along with Pastor David Berry of the Praise and Worship Family Outreach Center in Jasper, helped launch a program in April 2013 to address the problem.

"It's a faith-based program designed to give offenders an opportunity to make a significant change in their lives," Harvill said. "God has graced our efforts there with the help of volunteers from many [area] churches and organizations."

The program started with a simple weekly Bible study, he said, but a General Educational Development diploma program was added.

"We graduated five [inmates] last year with the help of a grant from the Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative," Harvill said. "We have enough to graduate 22 people, and we have 18 preparing to take the test on June 17."

The group also has started an alternative sentencing program and now offers anger management classes for inmates every Wednesday morning.

According to the Marion County Sheriff's Department, about 90 percent of inmates at the jail are return offenders.

"We've got to get that down to zero," Harvill said.

Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said he was proud of the program and the group's hard work toward that goal.

Harvill said he wants the volunteer group and county leaders to join forces to "enrich the lives" of county residents.

"We could make this a place where corporations would look forward to coming here and investing their money into things that are family oriented," he said. "We have very [few] family-oriented facilities here in Marion County."

County Commissioner Gene Hargis, who also works for the county sheriff's department, said the group continues to work with inmates even after they are released from jail.

"They're trying to drive down the re-offending percentages," he said. "They're doing a great job. This program is beginning to pay dividends already."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him atryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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