Monitoring debate returns to finance group

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 9/17/19

The question of funding for Bradley County to participate in an electronic monitoring indigency fund for misdemeanor offenders is going back to committee for further discussion.

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Monitoring debate returns to finance group

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The question of funding for Bradley County to participate in an electronic monitoring indigency fund for misdemeanor offenders is going back to committee for further discussion.

The Bradley County Commission voted Monday to send the issue back to its Finance Committee. It was the Finance Committee that put the funding question before the full County Commission at this week’s voting session.

Commissioner Milan Blake, chairman of the Finance Committee, introduced the resolution for Bradley County to put $50,000 toward the statewide electronic monitoring indigency fund. He said the committee voted earlier this month to opt in to the statewide electronic monitoring indigency fund, with local funding to begin in the 2020-21 budget year.

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

“We’re dealing with indigents, not people who can pay for these ankle monitors and drug patches,” Vice Chairman Thomas Crye said. He added the number of local offenders who would be impacted by the fund had fluctuated from what the Finance Committee had been previously told.

Crye said the committee was told that more than 70 local offenders on ankle monitors would be affected, then that number was reduced to eight, with one of those deemed indigent and eligible for assistance from the fund.

“There’s a large difference in cost to what we were told,” Crye said.

Tennessee Recovery & Monitoring President Andy Baggenstoss spoke to the Finance Committee earlier this month about the ankle monitoring indigent fund. No representative of the company appeared to be present during Monday’s County Commission meeting, to respond to commissioners’ questions and comments.

Commissioner Kevin Raper said he also has some concerns about this issue, noting he understands last year spending from the state was $192,980 for Bradley County offenders, which is “way more” than any other county in Tennessee.

“It appears to me now it’s a loophole … they found a crack in it,” Raper said of the company that provides monitoring services for Bradley County offenders.

Raper said counties are now “stuck” and have a situation where the state doesn’t want to pay for the electronic monitoring for indigent offenders, instead putting that cost on the counties. He added counties have a short time to take advantage of the matching funds from the state.

After discussion about how much funding Bradley County should commit — several dollar amounts were mentioned, with Blake noting he believes the $50,000 in the original resolution was “too much” — commissioners approved a substitute motion to send the issue back to the Finance Committee.

However, not all commissioners supported that course of action. Commissioner Erica Davis said the Finance Committee has discussed the electronic monitoring indigency fund three times, and the Law Enforcement Committee has met once about it. Davis said she was “ready to settle it” at Monday’s meeting.

Blake indicated participation in the program could be expensive and he was “OK with going to the people and asking for more revenue” for education and first responders in the current year’s budget, but he would have a difficult time asking for revenue for drug patches to monitor offenders’ use while they wait to go to trial. Crye said he agrees with Blake.

During discussion, commissioners also clarified that the electronic monitoring indigency fund is available to Bradley County offenders who are waiting to go to trial.

The question of the impact on juvenile offenders in Bradley County was also discussed. Juvenile Director Vickie Towne said the County Commission’s decision affects juvenile offenders. She said some are released on ankle monitors and the cost is family-paid, unless the offender is found to be indigent.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak asked Rich Kienlen, director of the Bradley County Misdemeanor Probation Office, whether the drug patch or ankle monitors are more effective. He said both can be.

“It’s a tool that we use,” Kienlen said of the drug patch, adding it is used to monitor use because “we have some that continue to use drugs.”

Kienlen said he is working on a proposal for Misdemeanor Probation to take over monitoring and testing. Commissioner Louie Alford asked Kienlen to bring his plan to the Oct. 14 Finance Committee meeting so it can be looked at.

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