The idea has been discussed in the past, but a lack of support and funding has kept such a program from being formed.
A workhouse would serve as a place for nonviolent prisoners to stay at night, while working a job during the day. The program could serve as an alternative sentence and a step between incarceration and the current work release program.
“We would have people sentenced out of general session’s court on misdemeanor sentences to serve who would qualify for the workhouse (such as) people in custody for failing to pay child support. My understanding of (probation director Rich Kienlen’s) concept is ... that people could ... do split confinement,” Public Defender Richard Hughes said.
Split confinement would be for those who served a partial sentence in the jail and then were given probation to the workhouse.
It could potentially relieve current crowding and prevent further crowding in the future.
“I think there would be some that would qualify who are already in the jail — child support offenders, probation violators,” Kienlen said.
Kienlen said there are 450 inmates in the jail. The program would serve as a way to be proactive.
Select commissioners, attorneys and members of the public were given more information on a potential plan for such a program by Monte Alsup of Proteus On-Demand Facilities.
Proteus provides prefabricated buildings on a lease-to-own basis. Alsup said many of the company’s clients lease the building for three to five years, while a jail is being expanded.
“How we begin a dialogue is typically driven by the Sheriff’s Office because they have the overriding need,” Alsup said.
However, sometimes local governments begin the dialogue and then present the information to the Sheriff’s Office.
If Bradley County implemented a workhouse program, it would be looking at a more long-term use. Alsup said the buildings can last 15 to 30 years with slight modifications. These modifications would be made before the building is released to the county, if the company knew up front the county would be using the building long term.
An option to build multiple stories could also provide more space for offices and a career training center, Alsup said.
“By doing it in a group setting like this, we are actually going to eliminate most of that [repeat] discussion and get closer to the truth,” Alsup said.
Alsup said much of the information he had as far as costs were assumptions, because some of the costs, such as personnel, will be based on current costs at the Bradley County Jail.
Commissioner Ed Elkins said he wanted to see a breakdown on personnel costs to run the facility.
“What I would like to see is a budget that is all-inclusive,” Elkins said.
At this early stage in discussions many factors of the potential program are unknown.
“I don’t know if any of us know right now what the number of officers would have to be,” grand jury chairman Alvin Wood said.
Alsup said the facility would not need as much personnel as a jail because there are not many people in the building during the day.
Kienlen said the ratio right now at the jail is 50 inmates to one guard. Representatives from the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office were invited, but did not attend Wednesday’s meeting.
At a previous meeting, it was decided that Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis would approve a committee to look into implementing a workhouse program.
Elkins said when the official committee is appointed it will need to draft a realistic look at what a budget would be.
Those being housed in the workhouse would pay a fee for staying there.
Commissioner Jeff Yarber said choosing what department the program would be under is important to determine.
Hughes said many people do not have jobs when they are arrested, so the program would need partnerships with companies in the communities willing to take a chance on the individual.
Community member Max Hughes said while some employers may be apprehensive at first, many will find that those in a workhouse program will be hard workers because they want to keep the job and not be sent to jail.
Yarber said the program could also be used to allow individuals to work toward being released early.