published Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Bradley County weighing workhouse construction

Rich Kienlen, director of the Bradley County Misdemeanor Probation Department, addresses the Bradley County Commission in this file photo.
Rich Kienlen, director of the Bradley County Misdemeanor Probation Department, addresses the Bradley County Commission in this file photo.
Photo by Paul Leach /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County commissioners will vote Tuesday whether to recommend further feasibility studies for a proposed 128-bed workhouse for county prisoners.

"I don't want to sound like Paul Revere, but I want to sound the alarm," Rich Kienlen, director of misdemeanor probation for Bradley County, said in a recent meeting with county commissioners. "We had 483 inmates in custody [on Aug. 26] in a 408-bed facility."

Members of the commission's Finance Committee began late last year discussing a workhouse where misdemeanor offenders would be confined at night but released to work during the day.

If the facility can house 25 state inmates and keep 103 county work-release inmates on its monthly rolls, it would make more than enough money to keep it afloat financially, said Kienlen. A full house of county and state inmates at $25 and $35 per day, respectively, would bring in $103,500 a month. Probation registration and other fees would bring total monthly revenue to $109,200.

Kienlen said if the facility cost $2.9 million, which he described as a worst-case scenario, the county could enter a seven-year lease-purchase agreement at 3.8 percent interest that would amount to $39,800 in monthly debt service. The estimated monthly operating cost is $89,800, which includes $29,300 for corrections staff.

Under those assumptions, Kienlen's figures show a monthly net of $19,400, which would triple once the debt is repaid.

Officials said that two things are key while the debt is outstanding: working county inmates and money for housing state inmates.

"We need community involvement and one of them being to allow employers to hire some of these low-level, nonviolent, non-sex offender misdemeanor offenders," said Kienlen.

Kienlen said he is working with the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce to generate involvement with local businesses.

He said another possibility is housing state inmates in the workhouse to free up space for federal inmates at the Bradley County Jail. Reimbursement for federal inmates is $55 per day.

Several commissioners voiced support for a viable work release program managed through the proposed facility.

A work release facility would allow child support and DUI offenders to continue working while still paying a penalty, said Commissioner Ed Elkins.

"We have to look for alternative sentencing," said Commissioner Jeff Yarber. "If we don't look for alternative sentencing, we're going to keep building bigger and bigger jails and we're going to have more and more corrections officers."

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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