The Franklin County Commission has approved to raise the fee work-release inmates pay to participate in the program from the current $40 to $65 per week.
The commission followed the Law Enforcement Committee’s previous recommendation in a 13-1 vote on Sept. 16.
Commissioner Helen Stapelton opted not to vote on the issue and Commissioners Don Cofer and Adam Casey were absent from the meeting.
Sheriff Tim Fuller said other Tennessee counties charge more than Franklin County has been.
He said recently some go as high as $100 per week and had used Rutherford County, which charges $75, as a nearby example.
Fuller said the program costs the county money, and the fees are used toward paying the county’s operational expenses.
Stapleton said charging more seems to be a “disincentive” for inmates when they are trying to turn their lives around.
“They’re still criminals,” Commissioner Sam Hiles replied.
Commissioner Greg King, who is a Decherd police sergeant, said the program requires county personnel to operate it, and expenses are incurred to handle the inmates involved.
King, who serves on the Law Enforcement Committee, had motioned at the most recent committee meeting to set the fee at $75. However, it failed with no one seconding his effort.
Committee Member Scottie Riddle had disagreed with the amount.
“I feel it’s a little bit too high,” he had said.
Riddle had said that although inmates in the program are allowed to hold regular jobs that pay $14 per hour, which would be $560 per week in salary, some of them have to devote money toward child-support payments or court fees.
He then motioned to set the fee at $65, and his effort was seconded by Barbara Finney, and the rest of the committee unanimously concurred.
The fee change was then forwarded to the County Commission to consider.
The work-release program is handled through the Middle Tennessee Reentry program, and it has a two-fold purpose — to give inmates job opportunities and simultaneously reduce an unpaid court-fine/delinquent-child-support balance totaling $31 million.
Dave Van Buskirk, a former Franklin County commissioner who now heads the reentry program’s business development sector, said recently that an agreement was reached with Thompson Appalachian Hardwoods, a Huntland-based hardwood products manufacturer, to have inmates join the company’s regular employee base through the special work-release program.
The inmates are paid regular wages which they in turn use to pay down court fines they have accrued through their incarceration process.
Van Buskirk had said the objective is to pay down those unpaid court fines.
He said most inmates have lost their ability to generate income because of their negative legal track record which has led to an immense negative balance in court fines that have been left unpaid.
Van Buskirk had said that he hopes the work-release program’s scope can be expanded to other companies so that more inmates can be involved in a process that is likely to turn their lives around through being able to hold onto jobs and avoiding a return to jail.
Van Buskirk had said the program inmates are transported to Thompson daily and are returned to the jail at the end of each day.
On Fridays, they get paid, and money they earn is used to pay down the court fine and unpaid child support debt they have accrued.
Christine Hopkins, the reentry program’s executive director, had said the reentry program’s goal is to give inmates opportunities so they don’t continually get released and then fail again in the outside world before being returned to incarceration.
She had said that 80-85 percent of the inmates who are released traditionally end up back in jail.
However, she had said that with the reentry program, only 30-35 percent make repeat jail appearances.