NASHVILLE — Hamilton County could be in line for an innovative Tennessee Department of Correction program that puts nonviolent felons struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues through an intensive one-year, three-phase program as an alternative to prison.
The Day Reporting/Community Resource Center program was created under a 2016 state law. It's already in operation in six counties, including Knox, Davidson and Shelby.
Participants undergo counseling and are taught, among other things, anger management, life and job skills. They also learn how to combat their drug or alcohol problems, get access to adult education and help with finding work.
Tennessee Day Reporting/Community Resource Center program
Under a 2016 state law the Tennessee Department of Correction implemented the centers, which serve as alternatives to incarceration by placing eligible participants in structured and intensive outpatient programs. The programs provide resources and services to offenders to assist them as they work toward becoming productive citizens in their communities.
The DRC/CRC is a one-year, three-phase program that will assist moderate- to high-risk offenders with a substance use issue and/or a mental health issue. To be eligible, participants must have received a felony conviction, be under TDOC’s Community Supervision program and have at least 2 years left on probation supervision, and/or have substance use concerns.
Source: Tennessee Department of Correction
Correction Commissioner Tony Parker told House Finance Committee members last month during his department's budget hearing that he would like to put a Day Reporting/Community Resource Center in Hamilton County. Each center typically has about 50 felons each.
"We're especially looking at the Hamilton County area, where we do not have one in Chattanooga," Parker told lawmakers.
Parker said while judges generally make decisions on eligibility for the programs, the Corrections department "has the option of offenders who are under probation supervision who may have a violation of supervision [to] refer those to a day reporting center."
The commissioner emphasized that he's "cautioned" the department's community supervision section "to make sure that we provide the opportunity to the courts first. If we have empty seats in the Day Reporting Center, referring a probationer who's under our supervision is appropriate. But I'd rather leave that option to the courts where they would have first shot at it."
It costs the state about $76 a day to keep someone in prison. The Day Reporting/Community Resource Center programs cost about $4, officials said.
Finance Committee Vice Chairwoman Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, later said that from what she understands about how the program works in other communities, "it's a proven process" and cost effective.
"I think the more we can do to make that re-entry positive and find a place to live with support and counseling and skills, the less likely they're going to go back to prison that we're all paying for," she said.
Moreover, Hazlewood said, Hamilton County has no halfway houses now to ease re-entry for felons. "I think we all recognize that prison is a very costly place," she added.
In a story that aired in October, Knoxville-based WBIR-TV reported on 30 people celebrating after participating in the Day Reporting/Community Resource Center program in Knox County.
DRC/CRC program components
Program components provide cognitive behaviorial therapy, group therapy, anger management, substance use therapy as well as job readiness skills, adult education and a community service requirement. Other components include understanding victim impact, health and wellness, peer recovery and self help.
Source: Tennessee Department of Correction
Graduate Reginald Moore told the station the program made him begin thinking in a different way.
"I finally started to take a step back and say, 'You know, what did I do' in the situation, and with that, things came out that I needed to change about myself or the revelations that came out, so that's when I started to take a look at myself instead of place blame on other people," Moore said.
It was the Knoxville program's third such graduation and its largest. WBIR reported that center officials said that of the 46 people who've gone through the program, only three have been sent back to jail.
In August, the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reported on the program in Rutherford County.
Chastity Bowling told the newspaper she had been addicted to methamphetamine and arrested in 2018 for drug use. She began treatment with the reporting center in March 2018, is no longer using meth, and has had a job for nearly a year.
Her life has "has changed 100% for the better," Bowling told the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal. "I'm sober. I've not been in jail. I've not been in trouble."
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.