Questions remain about the closure of a decades-old alternative sentencing program after the facility was raided by investigators earlier this year.
The John R. Hay House in Kingsport opened in the 1980s and is one of only twenty community corrections programs in Tennessee.
Local law enforcement officials fear the loss of the only alternative sentencing program in the area will worsen overcrowding at the Sullivan County jail, a facility already at risk of decertification.
Despite multiple interview requests from News Channel 11, the Hay House board has yet to give a clear explanation as to why they decided to close so abruptly.
In May 2019, the Hay House board notified the Tennessee Department of Corrections that it would not renew its contract, according to TDOC Spokesman Robert Reburn. The facility officially closes on June 30th when the current contract expires.
“The resources the Hay House represented are limited in our region,” said Brian Dillard, operations captain for the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department. “The closure of that pretty much eliminates that option as it stands right now.”
Sergeant Michael Cole said the Sullivan County jail is currently housing about 950 inmates, meaning they’re more than 300 people over capacity.
Cole said the Hay House diverted dozens of potential prisoners every year, giving them an opportunity to work and live in the community.
Without that option, Dillard said, “In theory, they’re just going to end up back in our facilities. It’s just going to contribute to the problem of recidivism.”
Cole said offenders who were living at the Hay House will be re-sentenced by a judge.
That doesn’t mean they’ll go back to jail but Cole said more than 50 of those offenders have already failed drug tests, possibly due to confusion about their fate. “They thought if they were going to come back any way they were going to go out with a bang,” he said.
Offenders aren’t the only ones without clarity.
In February 2019, unmarked state investigators were seen raiding the Hay House.
Reburn said the Comptroller of the Treasury is still investigating the facility.
A spokesperson there wouldn’t confirm this but sent News Channel 11 this statement:
“The Comptroller’s Office has broad authority to review entities including the John R. Hay House Inc. It is our policy not to comment further.”JOHN DUNN, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS
“I don’t know if it was a managerial problem. I don’t know if it was an internal problem. I don’t know if it was a financial problem. I’ve heard all of the above,” said Dillard.
Just down the road from the Hay House, Shades of Grace Pastor Will Shewey is among the many still in the dark about the reasons for the closure.
He said they’ve provided various support services for Hay House offenders for five years. “We just had a really good relationship, it was almost like a family,” he said.
In May, the Hay House sent a statement regarding their closure to News Channel 11, saying they made their decision after careful consideration. “Many of these factors were outside of the Board’s control and posed considerable concerns to the successful continuation of the program,” the statement said.