Chattanooga: Walter Williams slams move of criminal program

Chattanooga: Walter Williams slams move of criminal program

June 2nd, 2011 by Dan Whisenhunt in News

Some convicted criminals in the Hamilton County Corrections program are having a tough time getting to alternative sentencing programs since the program was moved from Chattanooga to Red Bank, a former judge said Wednesday.

"[Moving] community corrections [to] an area where there's no transportation, what you're saying is you want these defendants to fail," former Chattanooga Judge Walter Williams said at a meeting of the County Commission's security and corrections committee. The move took place May 3.

"You're telling the defendants, 'We're ordering you to do these things, but we know you're not going to be able to get out there,'" Williams said.

Williams, an attorney in private practice, and three General Sessions Court judges discussed whether the county should provide transportation for people in alternative sentencing programs. The community corrections program gives people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors a chance to work to complete sentences without going to jail.

He said some defendants can't find transportation to the program office.

"I believe there is something legally wrong with a district attorney - even with a judge - approving something that you know deep down inside this defendant cannot do," he said.

But others in the meeting said it's too early to tell whether transportation is a problem.

Sessions judges Bob Moon and David Bales said some people may have real problems getting to the facility, but others are making excuses not to participate.

Corrections Director Barbara Payne said that of roughly 1,000 program participants, about 51 have not reported. She said that number is not uncommon.

Commissioners discussed working with CARTA to run a special line for people in alternative sentencing. Moon did his own research and said that would cost $100 to $200 a day.

"It's a good program," Moon said. "It does work. It is just a logistical issue we are dealing with. ... We have people who would rather sit there and eat doughnuts and look at the football games in jail."

Commissioners agreed to study the issue for 90 days.

The program was on North Holly Street in Chattanooga, but Payne said the building was condemned.

During the regular commission meeting, commissioners approved a $198,967 contract to build a softball field at East Hamilton School. The bulk of the money - $158,708 - comes from the sale of the former Signal Mountain Middle School property.

Commissioners Chester Bankston and Larry Henry each kicked in about $20,000 from their taxpayer-funded discretionary money.