Created by an Anderson County Commission resolution in 2011, the Alternatives to Incarceration, or ATI, program has been batted around as a political hot topic. Though there appears to be disagreement regarding the program, there seems to be agreement on the purpose, intent, and merit of the program. As is the case with most programs, debate centers on implementation.
After much study of ATI as currently structured, I offered steps in our budget proposal to allow us to step away from the mistakes or misunderstandings that took place at the program’s inception in 2011, restructure with more modest and measurable goals, and allow room for growth in the number of clients the program will serve. Small steps forward will allow for much needed growth in trust and credibility of the program itself. The program also needs more realistic, tangible goals to achieve success, and it needs a cooling-off period to allow the mission to depoliticize.
Success requires the confidence of participants, that is, ATI stakeholders like our public defender, our district attorney general, our judges, and our law enforcement community.
The proposed restructuring emphasizes the original mission of the program—offering true alternatives to alleviate jail overcrowding—but it also redirects 1.62 cents on the tax rate to immediate needs: more detention officers.
My proposal would:
- Maintain the pre-trial release program with a reporting structure that eliminates the director’s position.
- Of the $58,022 funds available for the program based on .38 cents, I propose:
- Fund an annual stipend for a volunteer or current employee to organize the network of organizations/volunteers currently engaged in rehabilitative programs. It takes more than government efforts to rehabilitate, it takes community involvement—and we’re blessed with an abundance of volunteers. Assessments have identified a need for organizational management of volunteers and oversight to maintain programming continuity and consistency. Past ATI programs duplicated some services and removed other services that were being provided at no cost to the taxpayer. I propose maintaining our network of volunteers, but ensuring guidance, standards, and continuity.
- Allocate funding to increase use of home monitoring devices in conjunction with house arrest. Offenders finance the home monitoring system; however, as an example, the group Tennessee Recovery Monitoring offers no charge service for two out of 10 clients to allow programming for indigent offenders. I propose additional funding if we find greater indigent need. Home monitoring reduces jail overcrowding at a savings, while at the same time offering excellent statistics regarding violation and recidivism. Home monitoring takes the burden off the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department as monitoring companies take responsibility for violations, as well as liabilities. It allows for working offenders who qualify to continue to work and care for their families. In addition, health costs are not shifted to the detention facility. (This year alone, prisoner health costs are budgeted for more than $400,000.)
- Allocate funding for legislative lobbying with phase-out once goals are accomplished. Initially, I propose $4,000 per month for three months to address longstanding funding issues for our Sheriff’s Department and Anderson County Detention Facility. Initial efforts would target:
- Reducing Life Cycle Costs of the Detention Facility. Initial ideas include energy grants for retrofitting our facility with a cooling system incorporating the cold water of the Clinch River.
- Reducing Health Care Costs of housing prisoners. Initial ideas include pursuing a telemedicine program in conjunction with our in-house medical clinic to aid reduction in prisoner transport costs. Address mental health issues and costs. Address medical reimbursements at the state level.
- Long-range goals might include partnering with other counties in a cost-share effort to achieve legislative relief. Such relief might occur by increasing funding assistance, or the creation a new funding stream.
- Contribute to the drug court program operated by the Seventh Judicial District Drug Court. This board almost mirrors the make-up of our ATI program and is nearly a duplication of services. Drug court has a track record of success. Contribution to this program, or contributing to its expansion, accomplishes the same goals without reinventing the wheel.
With the above changes, I believe we allow room for growth where we might achieve success and save taxpayers money by more efficiently accomplishing the same goals. The ATI program will still remain in existence, though restructured, thus allowing for future change if performance goals are not met. If success is met in any area that reduces costs in other areas, (for example, home monitoring) then savings can be transferred to offset additional funding mid-year or at any point in time during 2013/2014.