BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A controversial proposal to charge inmates $35 for each day they are in jail has failed before the Sullivan County Commission.
Commissioners rejected the resolution in a 10–14 vote Thursday night.
The resolution was sponsored by Commissioner Hershel Glover, who said implementing a “pay-to-stay” program at the county jail would ease the burden on taxpayers.
However, several officials, including Sheriff Jeff Cassidy and District Attorney Barry Staubus, have expressed concerns about implementing such a program.
The measure had been tabled at previous meetings.
Glover introduced three amendments that were added to the resolution.
The first would have only required convicted inmates to pay the daily fee after some commissioners brought concerns about individuals eventually found innocent having to pay the fees.
The second allowed for the county to put in liens on an inmate’s personal property if they were unable to pay.
The third required the fees be collected by the court clerk of the court where the inmate was convicted.
Despite the amendments, the measure failed after several commissioners questioned the costs of collecting the fees.
“How much is it going to cost the county to be trying to collect fees, and how much personnel is it going to cost?” asked Commissioner Mark Vance.
Glover introduced the resolution to help offset the cost of inmate care and pay for the building of the new jail annexation, of which construction is underway.
“You’re going to have to come up with about $12-13 million because you got to provide water, you got to provide food, you got to provide medical care,” Glover said.
90 percent of the fees would go to paying off bonds for construction. The other 10 percent would go to the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office for pay raises and jail upkeep.
There was no public comment in favor of the program, but one person spoke against it.
That was Scott Scodola, a former convict turned peer interventionist with the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition. He works with inmates dealing with substance abuse issues adjust to life outside prison.
Scodola said based on his understanding of jail populations most inmates would not be able to pay.
“If you’re in jail for the whole year, that’s $12,775. Where are they going to get that money?” Scodola said.
Commissioner Angie Stanley noted during the discussion that 80 percent of the jail’s population is poor.
Scodola also pointed out the county would have trouble collecting anything from a lien on a car or home.
“A majority of my clients that are in jail right now are homeless. They don’t have anything. There’s going to be nothing to put a lien on,” Scodola.
Glover said inmates would have the option to work for minimum wage and pay for their daily fees. He said that aspect would help them after their sentence is complete.
“They can the $35 a day and then they would still have $80-85 a day that would be in an account for them when they get out,” Glover said.
But Commissioner Colette George said transporting inmates and providing them with adequate security could be costly.
“There’s still going to be costs involved that are going to have to be covered through this county whether we collect or not,” George said.
Glover repeatedly asked commissioners if they could provide any other solutions, but none were offered.
Commissioners David Akard, Todd Broughton, Larry Crawford, Joyce Crosswhite, Terry Harkleroad, Barry Hopper, Dwight King, Hunter Locke, and Alicia Starnes joined Glover in voting for the resolution.