Director resigns from Anderson County alternatives to jail program

Note: This story was updated at 6:39 p.m.

The director of an Anderson County program meant to save money and reduce crime and the jail population has resigned.

Mike Baker, director of the county’s alternatives to incarceration program, announced his resignation Thursday in a letter to Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County commissioners, and members of an advisory board. His last day will be April 4.

Baker said progress has been made toward reducing recidivism, but the program hasn’t achieved its potential “because of a lack of support from some in the judiciary and the current mayor.

“Without their willingness to support alternatives programming such as I have proposed, I believe we will continue to see increasing jail populations and drug-related crime,” Baker said. “The results will mean the county will need to go through the process of adding more jail space in a few short years.”

In a response, Frank said Baker has a passion for the individual rehabilitation of offenders.

“But he always failed to understand the legal system itself and the rights of the accused,” she said. “His efforts to cure people created liabilities when it came to possible incrimination of the accused. Judges, the district attorney general, and the public defender have laws they must follow in all cases, and Mr. Baker mistakenly took the requirement to follow those laws as a lack of support, and he took personal offense that he could only work with those who have already been convicted.

Baker suggested the county leave money in place for the alternatives to incarceration program, address the county’s drug problem primarily as a disease and secondarily as a crime, and keep pretrial and probation operations separate from the judiciary. Baker also recommended preserving the alternatives to incarceration advisory committee and “encourage buy-in by everyone in the judiciary and criminal justice system and willingness to support putting these alternatives in place.”

Frank said she had no personal issues with Baker, and she wished him well in the future.

More information will be added as it becomes available.

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  • Guest

    I will say, ORPD is making good efforts and showing great improvement. It does come down to our judiciary system though. It comes down to a point of how much is enough. Our current, and I mean nationwide, laws ties a lot of hands. Maybe a tent city could help, that and make the families of incarcerated

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.allison.37 Jason Allison

    I can say ORPD has made a vast improvement. It does boil down to our judiciary system however. We are held back by a lot of laws and restrictions. I think maybe a tent city is a good idea, that and hold the families of the incarcerated financially responsible for their daily cost of living while in jail/prison. There are quite a few people who get better food and medical services while locked up than those who hold and honest life.

  • Eileen Slater

    I agree with Jason that it comes down to our criminal justice system. I always thought the Alternatives to Incarceration Program was redundant and a bit of a boondoggle. Seems it came into being in reaction to the dust-up over the new jail. We already have “alternatives to incarceration:” probation and drug court, for example. Not sure they are effectively run.

  • http://www.facebook.com/denny.phillips.3956 Denny Phillips

    Baker was divisive. It is well known he had an adversarial relationship with the judiciary that basically neutered the program.

    Hopefully the next Director will be able to mend the fences and undo the mess Baker made if things.

    The humorous part of his resignation letter is the predictions of future jailing problems the he and former Temp Mayor/long-time Commissioner Iwanski have created with their incompetency.

    • Charlie Jernigan

      Perhaps your sister can solve this long-standing budgetary problem in Anderson County. Without an alternative to incarceration, putting everyone in jail seems to be the only viable county policy going forward.

      • http://www.facebook.com/denny.phillips.3956 Denny Phillips

        She will Charlie, she will.

  • David A. Vudragovich

    On making the family pay, keep in mind that states are also starting to look at making families responsible for the care of seniors who do not have assets or income to take care of themselves. (regardless of family ties or if they had even seen them in years) If those families turn to crime to pay for “grandma” in the nursing home, making the kids responsible for the parents is starting a vicious cycle. Change the level of services provided (cable, good medical to basic) during incarceration or the type of incarceration. Pittsburgh made very good use of halfway houses (drug testing, random searches, etc.) and they still had over crowding in their sinking jail (yes, built in early 90’s and it sunk). The other thing about the halfway houses, people got to keep working, not lose their job and house get foreclosed on or evicted. If you are locked up (primary wage earner) and no income, your stay at home spouse (and possible parent) will be knocking on the doors of ADFAC, churches and eventually TORCH. Has a study ever been done or does anyone have any ball park idea of how many in jail end up with family on welfare or other assistance?

    • Charlie Jernigan

      Sure, Baker had that kind of data which justified his efforts. New regime, new goals…

      • Sam Hopwood

        Something must have been amiss if the judiciary system did not support it.

        • Charlie Jernigan

          Sure, but the miss might be on either side. Some think that the law is best when it is punitive. I don’t know these judges, but there certainly are a wide range of points-of-view and willingness to be open to other points-of-view.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jason.allison.37 Jason Allison

      I still say a tent city would be a good idea. The state can pick up surplus tents for cheap and if sleeping on cots outside doesn’t wake them up, maybe they should just stay. There are plenty honest people who live “off the grid” and make a good life for themselves. I know that is all just wishfull thinking as no one would back it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jason.allison.37 Jason Allison

        Which still leaves us with the current question. Who has a better idea? Oak Ridge is full of a lot of people who want to complain about issues but don’t want to or not have a clue as how to intelligently propose alternate ideas. If we are to get anywhere with our issues we have to start looking for change and not just a pulpit from which to complain from.

  • Susan Gawarecki

    I saw Mike Baker speak to the League of Women Voters. He presented numerous outstanding initiatives that have worked well in the Iowa community where he previously served in a similar capacity. However, east Tennesseans seem more intent on punishment than on rehabilitation, and it doesn’t surprise me that he met resistance when attempting to introduce progressive measures. I, for one, am unhappy at the increasing demand for jail space, the county’s recidivism rate, the cost to taxpayers, and the waste of human potential.

    Baker also pointed out that if a probationer does not pay the $25 monthly fee to the for-profit probation company, then that person goes back to jail, costing Anderson County $65 per day! What’s the sense of that? The county should either pay the fee, or go back to running the probation program.

    • Sam Hopwood

      You might and Charlie might want to read Bob Fowlers column in the Knoxville News Sentinel. The Anderson County judges were not too keen on Mr. Baker and his knowledge of Tennessee law, among other things. It would appear that Mr. Baker felt that everyone was out of step but himself. That is rarely the case.

      • Charlie Jernigan

        I have read it and still stand by the premise that these alternative programs are cost effective in the short term, and more importantly, in the long term.

        It is clear that there was friction. The question in my mind is that, even if the resignation was best, it is a warning for anyone else wanting that job. How can they hope to be successful, not only by pleasing the judiciary, but by providing effective programs which is their fundamental purpose.

        I suspect that things will have to change on both sides but I don’t see where that leadership will come from.

  • http://www.facebook.com/denny.phillips.3956 Denny Phillips

    John-

    Will you be posting a story on the response of the judiciary?

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