Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett said the court system currently only has two main options for sentencing people who have committed crimes: probation and jail.
Neither option, he said, is ideal for many first-time offenders.
Speaking to the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club Thursday, Hatchett shared his support for a new workhouse program that would allow first-time offenders to keep their jobs while still seeing first-hand what consequences would await them if they broke the law again.
“We need something in the middle,” Hatchett said. “There has got to be something to get them on the straight and narrow.”
The idea he presented was to be able to sentence people who have been convicted of low-level crimes that might normally be considered for probation to a workhouse program.
Such a program would have convicted criminals living in a prison-like setting while still being able to work at their regular jobs during the day.
He said a first-time criminal being able to stay employed at his or her job would likely lessen the possibility of them re-offending because they would have less idle time.
Hatchett said this would offer a way for people who have committed “low-level” crimes for the first time the chance to see what prison is like so they do not do what they did again.
It would be a stiffer and more effective penalty than probation, and he said he believed it would keep many from being lured into “a life of crime.”
Plus, he said, a workhouse program could keep jails from becoming more crowded.
“Our prisons aren’t full of low-level offenders, but they are full,” Hatchett said. “The Bradley County Jail is overcrowded.”
Percentage-wise, crime is down, but he said a growing population in the Cleveland area has led to the need for more options for sentencing. He said crime increases whenever population does.
Though growth is a positive thing for Cleveland and Bradley County, he said the community “has got to get a better approach to crime.”
“It’s not going to get smaller,” Hatchett said. “It’s just a fact — more people, more crimes. Bradley County is the perfect spot to put something like this in effect.”
Though people need to be punished for breaking the law, he said prison should not be the first choice for most first-time offenders who have committed nonviolent crimes.
The goal is to keep people from re-offending by offering an alternative to probation, he said. In fact, he said most people who are currently in the Bradley County Jail are those who have committed the same types of crime more than once.
“It’s very rare that you have someone go into prison right off the bat,” Hatchett said. “What we are looking to do is keep them from ever getting to prison.”
A workhouse may help that by showing them that there would be real consequences if they committed crimes again, he said.
Hatchett said workhouses are not common in Tennessee, but he did point to the one in Anderson County as an example of one that has been successfully started in the state.
Back in 2012, the Bradley County Commission formed a workhouse panel to consider the possibility of such a project. As recently as late July, the Commission was discussing if and how such a project could be funded and set into motion.
Also at the meeting, Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club president Andy Anderson announced some changes to membership requirements. Instead of just working or retired professionals, stay-at-home parents and caregivers may now be considered for membership.
Anderson also recognized Rotarian Johnny McDaniel, superintendent of the Bradley County Schools system, for recently receiving the Superintendent School Health Leadership Award from the American School Health Association. He handed McDaniel a fresh, yellow apple and jokingly referred to it as the “Golden Apple Award.”