CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County leaders are reviewing the feasibility of a workhouse program as an alternative sentencing tool for misdemeanor offenders.
Earlier this week, county commissioners and judicial officials discussed the costs and benefits of using a semipermanent 128-bed facility intended to house work-release inmates.
The workhouse typically would house people convicted of misdemeanors and parents who don't pay child support, said Rich Kienlen, director of misdemeanor probation for Bradley County. Inmates would go to work during the day but sleep at the workhouse -- and pay rent.
Officials agreed that as long as the workhouse makes money, such a program would benefit the county and offenders eligible for work release.
"It's a cash generator," said Monte Alsup, a representative for Proteus, a company that provides facilities for flexible correctional needs.
Depending on the county's financing choices and project requirements, Alsup said he's sure a workhouse would yield significant cash flow in its first year.
The biggest advantages would be reducing incarceration costs and keeping offenders in the labor force, said Commissioner Jeff Yarber, who called himself a longtime proponent of alternative sentencing.
Several people noted that putting offenders in jail takes them out of the workforce and makes them increasingly unemployable.
Alsup said the workhouse could save money compared to a lockup. Because inmates would be at work during the day, the workhouse staff could be smaller and fewer meals would need to be provided, he said.
The cost of food and utilities isn't known at this point, but commission Chairman Louie Alford and Commissioner Ed Elkins asked for more concrete numbers.
Officials also talked about what county entity would control the facility and its revenues.
"Until you put the hierarchy in place, until you get a steadfast, solid plan of who's going to oversee it ... you can gather all the numbers you want, but it's going to bottleneck there," said Yarber. He noted this was the fourth or fifth discussion he had attended about a workhouse program in the last 11 years.
Officials questioned whether such a facility would fall under the Bradley County Sheriff's Office or the County Mayor's Office, as the misdemeanor probations department does.
County Mayor D. Gary Davis is forming a work committee to review the matter further, Alford said.