Misdemeanor probation director Rich Kienlen told the workhouse committee Thursday that some employment agencies have expressed interest in working with the program to provide placement for those guilty of misdemeanor crimes.
Kienlen and committee member Brian Smith said the committee planned to talk to those agencies further. A progress report will be given to the committee at a later date.
The establishment of a workhouse program would give a middle tier of sentencing between misdemeanor probation and jail.
If the program is established, a GED completion component would also be included for those without a diploma. Tony Moore of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office said a GED program has already been instituted at the jail.
The program could serve as a way for violators of probation to keep their jobs while in custody.
“We’re constantly taking out warrants on people for violation of probation,” Kienlen said.
He said when a warrant is served and a person goes to jail, the person loses his or her job. A workhouse program would allow someone to pay fines and bills while still serving time.
“Most of them [violations are] for not reporting and for not paying bills and costs,” Kienlen said.
Committee member Ed Elkins requested a list of types of offenders who could be included in the workhouse program.
In the program, people would be in the facility for 12 hours and out working and taking care of other responsibilities for 12 hours, according to Kienlen.
Food costs for the program would vary depending on how many people there are. Kienlen said meals at the jail cost 98 cents per meal if there were 300 to 349 inmates. The cost per meal decreases at different levels as more inmates are added, according to Kienlen. Currently, the cost is 89 cents a meal for the approximate 448 inmates.
“If we’re talking about a workhouse and work release, I wouldn’t think they would need more than two meals — breakfast and supper. Most people if they’re going to work are probably going to eat before they come back,” Kienlen said.
Medical coverage for those in the workhouse is another cost being considered. Kienlen said he has talked to the jail about current medical costs. Under the current contract the county pays about $52,989 a month on medical insurance.
“I’m not sure what the per-inmate medical costs would be,” Kienlen said.
How medical care that could not be completed in-house, such as issues requiring a hospital visit, would be handled was also discussed. In the Murfreesboro workhouse program, if a person has insurance through a job, this insurance would be used for such costs.
“If it was something major, of course, they would be asking them to be released from the jail anyway,” Kienlen said.
Kienlen said this might be something that needs to be worked out with the county attorney.
The jail currently has some inmates who are on work release or do volunteer work to reduce the time they will stay in jail. The committee plans to visit the jail to see the area of the jail where they stay. Using this area as a springboard for the program had been discussed by Kienlen and Elkins.
“This is a program that has been proven to work in other areas. ... If it’s something you want to do, I think you need to hit the ground and run with it,” Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Yarber said.
The area of the jail in question is already at capacity, and trying to use this area would not help relieve crowding, Elkins said. He said during initial discussions whether the area was full or not was unknown.
Kienlen said additional revenue brought into the misdemeanor probation program could be set aside to cover upstart costs for the workhouse. The department is set to bring in enough money to cover its budget in April. The misdemeanor probation department routinely brings in more money in fees than projected.
Grand jury foreman Alvin Word asked Elkins if he would consider allowing the workhouse to be built and run by a private company.
“I would certainly be amenable to that kind of a proposal,” Elkins said. “If some private capital wants to invest in a workhouse program, and if they can make some money out of it and satisfy Rich’s concerns, I wouldn’t have any objections to it.”
Public Defender Richard Hughes said a privately run facility would be required to follow the same laws as a government one.
Also during the meeting, the committee voted to make Hughes and Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett official members. Tony Moore was made a member to replace the original representative from the jail. The original person appointed no longer works in the jail.
Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Corrections officer Allen Miller was once the director of the workhouse program at the jail, according to Kienlen. Kienlen said Miller had agreed to let the committee ask him questions about the program if so desired.