The Bradley County Workhouse Committee delayed a vote on setting a preference on who would run a proposed workhouse program during a meeting Thursday.
The meeting was called to establish a recommendation on whether the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office, the mayor’s office or a private organization should run the program.
Committee members and BCSO representatives expressed concerns during the meeting.
“We all think it’s a good concept, and it is,” Sheriff Jim Ruth said. “My major concerns are what happens if we don’t meet our obligations every month. If it can’t meet the obligations it can’t come out of my budget because there wouldn’t be enough there to do that.”
“That has been my concern all along,” said Bradley County Commission chairman Louie Alford.
Grand jury chairman Alvin Word suggested misdemeanor probation director Rich Kienlen, members of the Sheriff’s Office and anyone else who has concerns about costs to run the facility meet to work out a more specific cost breakdown of running the facility.
Bradley County Commissioner Ed Elkins said he would like to see a cost comparison on BCSO running it as opposed to it being a department under the mayor’s office.
“We’re very reluctant to go ahead and say, ‘Yeah let’s pull the trigger on this,’ if we’re not clear on what the cost situation is going to be,” Elkins said.
Estimates on operation have been based on having two full-time positions and the rest being part-time employees.
BCSO Corrections Operations director Gwen Beavers said personnel will need the same amount of training whether they are full-time or part-time employees. She said proper training usually takes a year.
There was discussion about housing low-risk trustee prisoners in the workhouse.
Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett said doing this would change some of the dynamics of the facility since these trustee inmates would be required to be supervised by the BCSO while working.
“If the sheriff runs it and the sheriff needs to put people over there, then the sheriff can put people over there,” Hatchett said. “But as far as sentencing, someone would be sentenced to either jail or the workhouse.”
Hatchett said he felt the workhouse could decrease the repeat offenders in Bradley County. He said it would also keep those who are low-risk offenders from losing their jobs while serving jail time.
“We are doing something for the future, not necessarily for this moment right now,” Hatchett said, commenting that it might not immediately reduce overcrowding at the jail.
He said people are being sentenced to probation because there is not any room at the jail.
“I don’t want to put them on probation. I think if they do some time they are going to straighten up and they are going to fly right,” Hatchett said.
Public Defender Richard Hughes said if that option becomes a reality, then Sessions, Criminal and Child Support courts would be able to sentence people to the workhouse. Hatchett said he thinks those sentenced from these courts would fill the facility within six months.
“And hopefully those people go to the workhouse, come out, do fine and you never see them again,” Hatchett said.
Beavers said trustee inmates require supervision. Those going to work and then coming back to the jail would not be supervised by workhouse staff while at their jobs.
“We have one person on work release right now,” Beavers said.
Hatchett said there are probably others who would qualify but have not requested it.
Housing state inmates at the workhouse in order to bring in revenue for the facility has also been discussed. Revenue would also be generated by fees paid by those sentenced to the workhouse.
Beavers said a workhouse would have to meet the same facility requirements as a jail. Elkins asked Beavers to look at the current drawings of the proposed facility and see what would need to be added in order to meet the requirements. These requirements may increase the cost of building the facility.
The facility would also have to be designed in a way that it could house females as well as males, Beavers said.
In the past year, the BCSO has had 368 people sentenced to 30 days or less of jail time.