Education & Workforce Development and Law

Space issues grow at Johnson County work-release site

September 18, 2012

A program that allows dozens of convicted offenders to work while completing their prison sentences needs a new building.

Some of the walls in the Johnson County Community Corrections facility need to be replaced because they are damaged, according to the Daily Journal of Franklin.

The building doesn't have enough room to separate offenders whom officials don't want together. And the 10 spaces available for female offenders are constantly filled.

County officials have talked about expanding the work-release facility for years, either by moving the program to a new building or renovating the building it's in now. But with the Johnson County jail routinely facing issues of overcrowding, the expansion may have to happen sooner than officials expected, the director of the program said.

Now, a committee has been formed to decide what kind of expansion the work-release program needs.

Community corrections director Albert Hessman said the expansion will not happen for at least a few years, but he thinks the committee is a first step in starting the project.

"It's something that's not going to happen real quick, but it needs to be discussed," he said.

Both the jail and work-release program are housing more people. Expanding the work-release facility would allow local judges to sentence offenders to that program instead of sending them to jail, Hessman said.

Committee members previously talked about expanding the program by building a new facility, renovating a building for the program or adding to the current building, located near the county jail on Hospital Road, Hessman said.

To help pay for the expansion, community corrections has saved $1 million over the past few years from fees offenders pay to be in the program, he said.

The work-release program is funded with fees paid each day by the people in the program who stay at the facility. The program also receives funding from a state grant but does not receive any funding from the county's general fund budget.

But he said $1 million is not enough to pay for a full expansion, so the committee will have to decide where the rest of the money will come from.

Hessman said he is unsure how much the expansion will cost because the committee has not decided what work will be done.

"It just depends on what we do," Hessman said. "One million dollars isn't a lot of money."

Expanding the work-release program would help prevent overcrowding in the jail, but committee members say the expansion also is needed to improve the program.

Currently, the facility can house 90 men and 10 women. Hessman said the female spaces are filled continually, while the number of men participating usually is 50 to 60, although the program occasionally reaches its capacity for male offenders, too.

The male offenders are classified into groups of how likely they are to commit another crime, Hessman said. The program would like to separate the offenders who have a high risk of committing another crime, but he said there isn't enough space to do that.

The program also does not have space to provide services, such as job or educational training, Franklin defense attorney Carrie Miles said. Those services could help stop the offenders from committing crimes again after they are released from the program, she said.

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