The workhouse could provide an alternative sentencing for the general sessions courts, while relieving crowding at the Bradley County Jail.
A committee to visit the Murfreesboro workhouse and determine the cost of implementing such a program is being created by Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis at the request of Grand Jury Chairman Alvin Wood. The committee will report to the Bradley County Commission at a later date.
Several options for a workhouse program were discussed by a group of community leaders during a meeting Wednesday. The gathering was called by the Grand Jury committee to discuss the possibilities with representatives from the local courts, attorneys, Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, Bradley County Commission and other leaders who could contribute to the process.
Wood said the workhouse would be a way to decrease overcrowding at the jail and reduce the number of repeat misdemeanor offenders.
“It’s one aspect we don’t like to talk about, but we do see a lot of repeat offenders,” Word said.
The concept of a workhouse has been discussed in Bradley County before, including a visit to the facility in Murfreesboro. Davis said at that time there was not adequate funding for the project.
Misdemeanor Probation Director Rich Kienlen said the workhouse would be primarily for those who already have jobs to give them a way to keep their jobs while in custody.
Those who are in the workhouse would be charged a fee for staying there.
Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford said the committee should also look into grants that could fund startup costs.
Using an existing abandoned building would not be cost effective, so a temporary prefabricated building would be used as a 64-bed facility, Kienlen said. This would only be a sentencing option for nonviolent crimes. Initial startup costs and how much the program would cost were unknown to Kienlen, who presented the idea during Wednesday’s meeting.
One possible revenue stream for the workhouse could be renting out office space to attorneys or other agencies that could serve a need to workhouse participants.
Kienlen said some attorneys and public defenders could also have offices in the facility. Kienlen said he hoped the misdemeanor probation office could also be moved to the workhouse.
Attorney James Logan said several community organizations that focus on literacy and education had expressed interest in this option. This plan has already been used in the Bradley County Juvenile Court Behaviorial Unit to create revenue while providing prevention services.
“Changing lives is what we are going to have to do, and our current system with the population we have their is unable to reach that objective. I know Sheriff (Jim) Ruth has that objective,” Logan said. “It is a revolving cycle and the only way you can change that is by changing lives.”
The potential workhouse is also being seen as a way to cut down on repeat offenders by providing offenders with a way to earn a living while in custody.
Gary Connor with Southeast Community Corrections said the county should also look into ways to help these people get jobs, because many of them will not be employed.
“A lot of them aren’t going to have a job when they are incarcerated,” Connor said. “The ultimate goal is to make these offenders productive members of society and save the county money.”
Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth said additional personnel would be needed to start such a program.
“The concept’s great. I just wish there was some way it could work,” Ruth said.
It was estimated 10 additional employees would be needed to run a 64-bed facility.
Ruth said his department already needs more corrections offices in the jail and would not have any to spare. The workhouse would not necessarily have to be run directly by the BCSO, it could be under the misdemeanor probation program or another such department.
Ruth questioned whether enough offenders would fit the criteria for the workhouse alternative sentence to even be considered.
However, he said with the number of probation violation outstanding warrants, there might be enough. Others present from the judicial system agreed there would be enough people meeting the criteria, because of the growing number of cases in the sessions court.
“Currently we have 1,500 outstanding warrants for violation of probation,” Kienlen said.
Bradley County Sheriff’s Officer Maj. Jon Collins said many times officers will try to serve a warrant, but the person will not be home. Often the person then pays the bond required before officers can even officially serve the warrant.