Indigent inmate monitoring debated

County still eyes costly program

Posted 9/11/19

After multiple committee meetings where a statewide ankle monitoring indigent fund was discussed, the Bradley County Commission is slated to take up the issue during its voting session next week.

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Indigent inmate monitoring debated

County still eyes costly program


After multiple committee meetings where a statewide ankle monitoring indigent fund was discussed, the Bradley County Commission is slated to take up the issue during its voting session next week.

During Monday’s County Commission meeting, Commissioner Milan Blake said the Finance Committee met to discuss the issue, as did the Law Enforcement Committee. Blake is chairman of the Finance Committee, which last week voted to send this to the full County Commission to opt in, with funding to begin in the 2020-21 budget year.

Blake said the funding is recommended at $50,000 with the contingency being that the amount could be lowered, if needed. He said the option to lower that amount has been confirmed with Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg.

In order to meet the state's deadline, the County Commission needs to vote on it next Monday, Blake said, as he placed it on that meeting’s agenda.

Blake said for discussion purposes, GPS is the same thing as ankle-bracelet monitoring. He also clarified that opting in to the state program means also opting in for drug-patch monitoring.

Commissioner Kevin Raper asked how many ankle monitors they're talking about. Blake asked Sheriff Steve Lawson and Rich Kienlen, director of the Bradley County Misdemeanor Probation Office, to speak on that. Blake added last week the committee heard there were about 70.

Kienlen said there are about 78 on drug patches and seven on ankle monitors "and six of them are paying," meaning one is considered indigent and eligible for assistance from the fund. He said that a comment last week from the president of the monitoring company that "80-something" offenders would be put back in jail is not correct.

Tennessee Recovery & Monitoring President Andy Baggenstoss spoke to the Finance Committee last week about the ankle-monitoring indigent fund. At that time, he estimated “we will have 100 probably by the end of the day who will be off monitors” if it wasn’t funded immediately.

Baggenstoss added his company can’t afford to pay $3.33 per day to cover monitoring costs; he said the company has paid about $37,000 since July 1.

“It’s the state of Tennessee that has put us in this situation,” Baggenstoss said, adding he is also running into issues with other counties.

County Commission Vice Chairman Thomas Crye said Monday the Finance Committee was led to believe there are 70 offenders on ankle monitors. He asked if the monitoring that was discussed includes drug patches. Kienlen said it does include drug patches, which are also reimbursed by the state for indigent cases.

"Coming up with a number to budget is difficult," Blake said of the $50,000 funding recommendation. "This is about the best-guess, educated number we could come up with."

Blake added Crye is drafting a letter to Bradley County's state legislators because, "in my opinion this is a problem looking for a solution." The letter is expected to include questions about the DUI and domestic violence fees Baggenstoss said are being funneled to the fund, as well as about the law change that puts financial responsibility on counties.

Another aspect of the letter will be to bring up the eight-month wait for evidence to be tested by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime labs.

“That’s eight months someone is waiting in our jail” for the next step in the judicial process, Blake said.

Blake said other counties are in the same predicament regarding the ankle-monitoring indigent fund. Commissioner Bill Winters said this also affects juvenile offenders on monitoring.

Commissioner Louie Alford asked if there is a difference in the reimbursement cost between the drug patches and GPS monitoring. Kienlen said there isn't, and that each option costs $300.

Alford said he recalls it was also implied that "70-something" people would be returned to incarceration at the Bradley County Jail. Kienlen said that number is not correct.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak said if they are talking about helping indigent inmates, they need to look at an affordable telephone call system and commissary options.

Blake said a judge has to determine someone is indigent before they are eligible for the financial assistance. He added he understands it is more economical to use GPS monitoring rather than incarceration for offenders who meet certain criteria.

Blake said if Bradley County does not opt in to the program, if the decision is made to opt in at a future date, the cost “is 100% on Bradley County.”

“If we don’t do it now we’re not taking advantage of the matching part of it,” he said.

The Bradley County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for noon on Monday, Sept. 16, in the County Commission Courtroom of the Courthouse.


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