Rhea house arrest plan draws ire

Rhea house arrest plan draws ire

June 20th, 2011 by Kimberly McMillian in News

RHEA COUNTY, Tenn. - Members of the Rhea County Jail Committee say that using "house arrest" supervision for minor offenders isn't a viable option for the county.

In a letter to the editor in the local paper, The Herald News, Evensville resident Terry Bailor said county officials should spend his "tax dollars wisely" concerning the option of building of a new justice center. He suggested house arrest for offenders not classified as "hardened criminals."

District Attorney General Mike Taylor said after the monthly corrections committee meeting that there are "all kinds of alternatives" for first-time offenders but that house arrest would be costly for the county. Normally, that alternative is supervised by private companies, Taylor said.

Sheriff Mike Neal said in a phone interview on Friday that the CCS option would help with overcrowding, but that "it won't fix the problem" since the jail would have to find at least 50 inmates who were first-time offenders.

Neal didn't specify how many of the jail's 130 inmates had prior convictions. But he said the vast majority are in jail on drug charges or failure to pay child support and wouldn't qualify for community corrections.

He said 11 inmates are state prisoners awaiting trials. The state pays $35 a day for housing, generating about $120,000 a year for the county.

Earlier this month, Tennessee Corrections Institute inspector Barry Suttles decertified the jail because it is chronically overcrowded.

Neal has told the corrections committee that overcrowding isn't a new issue. He said he's worked to "keep our numbers down" since his election in 2002 and has pushed for a justice center.

He told the Times Free Press that the 1960s-era county jail needs constant maintenance.

He said there is a security issue because the downtown jail houses inmates and transports them across the road to the Rhea County Courthouse.