Loudon County officials are working to find ways to keep repeat incarcerations down through local resources and a possible partnership with surrounding counties.
Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said the county is the early stages of a partnership with Blount, Knox, Sevier and Monroe counties to provide a “regional transition center for recovery.”
“I guess a little bit over a year now Ed Mitchell (Blount County mayor), he’s talked about it and something he was interested in doing and kind of letting Blount County lead the way so to speak,” Bradshaw said. “They’ve went so far as they’ve acquired some property and they’ve talked to the folks who live around the property and they understand and so they’ve kind of got their blessing. Mayor Mitchell’s vision is reducing jail population, one, but doing it in a manner that’s going to give folks the opportunity to recover from their addiction as well as have some gainful employment as they come out of the program as well.”
Bradshaw said an advisory committee is comprised of each county mayor, along with sheriffs and district attorneys general.
Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell could not be reached for comment by News-Herald presstime.
“My understanding is the property is there, and so very early in the process,” Bradshaw said. “We’re still kind of talking around different programs we’re going to do inside the facility itself. Security of course is a big deal and so I think that’s something the sheriff’s department’s talking about. The process itself, of course we won’t do any violent offenders. Is it a process where it’s a first offender only? Is it a second offender? Is it somebody who’s maybe poised to take a step out of that lifestyle and take a step forward and away from it? Different things like that we’re balancing.”
Russell Johnson, 9th Judicial District attorney general, said there is “a long way to go” for the program to become a reality.
“Blount County has been given the property and that is about all they know at this point,” Johnson said. “They are trying to seek commitments from surrounding counties relative to numbers of inmates to send to a facility that has not yet been built, they do not know what types of inmates, what types of programs and who will provide the services. Former Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols is part of this process, and he and I have talked about all of the hurdles that need to be cleared to even get to the point of Blount County building a facility and what it would look like.”
Businesses have expressed interest in partnering, Bradshaw said.
“If you have merchants and businesses that will accept individuals that may have issues in their past, that’s very beneficial because that gives them I think hope that they can — if it’s drug addiction and they owe say child support, a lot of times for individuals that owe child support, then they suspend their driver’s license, then they can’t work and things of that nature,” Jimmy Davis, Loudon County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy, said. “I think maybe it’ll give them hope or at least a direction for something to shoot for where they can make some money and pay their fines and costs, pay their debt to the court or restitution if there’s any type of restitution-type crime.”
Gov. Bill Lee has expressed interest in the program, Bradshaw said.
“Mayor Mitchell’s hoping for especially some pretty stout funding for the program,” Bradshaw said. “I think that helps it get on its feet to begin with because of course that’s a big thing with any local government is your spending because none of our counties are absolutely just rolling in money. I think the state could step up and really put some money in this and allow us to do what we’re wanting to do with different minds, different opinions, but all coming together for the same purpose, then I think that would be successful.
“... I think what the state decides is a big part of it,” he added. “At the same time we keep putting our ideas to the committee and seeing what sticks and what everybody’s in favor of. Just keep moving forward is the key.”
Local resources a possibility
With the completion of the new jail, Davis said he hopes to soon provide resources with Align9, which is offered through Johnson’s office.
“We can do things and I think it’s important for us, yes, to have that facility regionally, but I’ve always believed to take care of your own first,” Davis said. “Even though that’s an advantage to have that close, if we don’t offer that here to maybe someone doesn’t qualify for whatever reason, maybe their crime is a little more harsh, maybe they do have violent tendencies or it is a felony that they’ve been arrested for because either a dollar amount or a weight on a limit of a drug. I think if we have similar resources in our facility, I think it’ll be better for people who may not qualify for an outsourced facility, whether it be transportation or security that we may risk with a more severe case, we can handle it in-house.”
Johnson would like to offer several services, including GED classes, parenting classes and reentry programs, especially for those who have never held a job or haven’t had one recently due to drug addiction. He said industries have expressed interest in taking inmates and convicted felons.
“The sheriff has always wanted to get programs like that in here, but we’ve had such an issue for years of space to have it and enough staff to be able to accommodate for something like that, because you move inmates around the jail you have to have security for them, especially when you have outside resources coming in,” Davis said. “Now we have a facility finally, it’s finally open a couple weeks ago. I really think that will be a hot topic for us going into the next budget year to try to get those things going.”
Johnson believes there’s less concern about overcrowding now with the jail expansion.
“Obviously, in the COVID era a lot of that is ‘out the window’ so to speak as the jails wish to limit out-of-jail persons coming into contact with inmates to present these classes,” Johnson said. “One unfortunate aspect of the new jail design is the lack of adequate video conferencing ability. We have to video inmates one at a time from the booking area or they have to bring inmates up to the second courtroom and we video them from there to the main courtroom. So I am not sure how even virtual classes — which are much less effective in my experience but easier to deliver — than in-person classes where you have better interaction and the instructor can pick up body language and other reactions and clues as to how effective the material is being received.”