Statewide drug court to open next month in Wartburg, Tenn.

Statewide drug court to open next month in Wartburg, Tenn.

July 25th, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

Photo by Laura-Chase McGehee/Times Free Press.

What the state is calling the first statewide drug recovery court in the nation will open next month in Wartburg, Tenn., seat of Morgan County and site of the Morgan County Correctional Complex.

In Tennessee, drug courts operate largely within judicial districts and offer alternatives to jail time for nonviolent drug offenders through recovery centers. The centers are designed to rehabilitate drug abusers and help reincorporate them into society.

Candidates for the Wartburg facility potentially can come from as far away as Memphis, a department of corrections representative said Tuesday.

The new facility, a Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services news release states, is part of the state's effort "to divert people in need of substance abuse treatment or mental health services from hard prison beds to effective treatment programs."

The facility is part of the existing state corrections facility in Wartburg. The recovery center will house 100 beds, and program directors hope it frees up 100 spots for violent criminals in Tennessee prisons.

"It will ... allow for prison beds to be reserved for those violent offenders," the release states.

In addition, state officials say the cost of housing an offender at the recovery center is about half the cost of prison housing. The estimated cost per day to house prisoners is $65 per day, Ken Yager, state senator for Morgan County's district, said Tuesday. But the cost per day at the new recovery center will be about $35 per day.

He said the state likely chose to base the facility in Wartburg because of available space at the correctional facility there. The Morgan County Correctional Facility took on Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary inmates in 2009 after that 113-year-old facility closed.

Michael Rabkin, a spokesman for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said the recovery center still will be very secure. Tennessee Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield said the center should not be mistaken as "soft on crime." It is an attempt to "place people in the best option" he said in the media release.

Morgan County Executive Don Edwards said Tuesday he is happy that Morgan County will house the center.

"Morgan County has had a good relationship with the department of corrections for over 100 years, and we really work well together," he said.

Edwards said the community benefits from the prison's presence, and the department of corrections website estimates that more than 1,000 hours of community service work is produced by facility inmates every year.

"There's a feeling of trust between the facility and the people of Morgan County," he said. "We're tickled about it."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6731.